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Two Harbors garden yields fresh produce, friendships

Community garden volunteers Candy Couture and Deedi Talbott work in the Marek Fuller Community Gardens in Two Harbors. (Photo by Jim Erickson)1 / 2
Thirty-five raised bed garden plots make up the Marek Fuller Community Gardens in Two Harbors. After his death, Fuller’s family made a sizable donation to the garden project that now bears his name. (Photo by Jim Erickson)2 / 2

Just over three years ago, the rich brown patchwork of raised garden beds next to the Arrowhead Economic Opportunity Agency office in Two Harbors was little more than a dream. This year, however, they’re expected to yield a bountiful harvest of fresh, organic produce for the gardeners who tend them and the Two Harbors Area Food Shelf.

Volunteers say that all 35 beds will be in use by novice green-thumbers and experienced gardeners alike. A troop of  local Girl Scouts is working toward merit badges by planting and tending a plot, a couple of local churches will be growing a variety of veggies, as will three master gardeners who provide technical support and myriad other skills to the success of the gardens.

The Marek Fuller Community Gardens represent the work and generosity of many, including its namesake, who passed away in the winter of the garden’s first year.

“He was a big supporter of local foods,” said food shelf volunteer Jan O’Donnell of Fuller. “And his family gave a large donation in his name after he died.”

Other businesses and organizations have come forward as well, providing a variety of goods, services and equipment to support the operation, as have area garden enthusiasts who have donated seeds and starter plants. Community Garden volunteers Candy Couture and Deedi Talbott said that a wide variety of vegetables and herbs will be grown this year.

“Potatoes, tomatoes, onions, beans — green, purple, yellow, string,” Talbott said, listing each, her voice trailing away as she and Couture enthusiastically shared details about the garden, each picking up the thread of conversation where the other left off.

“This means so much to me,” a smiling Couture added. “Just growing your own vegetables, being out in the sun, and donating back to the community.”

The volunteers say that they have more than 80 years of gardening experience between them, developing their gardening skills at the elbows of elder relatives. Now, with greater appreciation for those early lessons, the two are growing produce by the peck.

“If you had grandparents who had a garden, you were out there,” Couture said excitedly. “And then you didn’t like to garden because you had to pick rocks and weeds, but then when you got older.”

Talbott nodded in agreement as Couture spoke.

Both women’s enthusiasm for the project is evident as they outlined upcoming improvements and plans. There will be a new critter-resistant composter, a handcrafted tool shed, and a load of topsoil to enrich the growing capacity of the garden beds.

The gardens are an opportunity for people to gather, socialize, share their ideas and grow their own foods. Some do so because the harvest contributes to the variety of foods they can enjoy throughout the year, some grow their own because it helps them keep food costs down at a time when anemic-looking tomatoes can cost almost $3 per pound. Still others combine these reasons with their desire to help the community and grow veggies for the food shelf, too. Both the scouts and churches plan to donate their produce, as do the master gardeners. Each grower is asked to consider growing a row to donate. It’s strictly optional, but much appreciated by food shelf patrons.

“Candy and Deedi show up early and harvest on Thursdays,” O’Donnell said.

Everything is taken inside to be washed and readied for distribution.

“It goes out the door as fast as it comes in,” O’Donnell said.

It’s not easy growing food in northern Minnesota, with its chilly spring, hungry deer and heavy soil. But Talbott and Couture said these hurdles don’t deter them or the other gardeners. On a recent day, the women stood surveying the beds, some newly planted with small, green starters.

“It’s going to be beautiful when everything starts coming up,” Couture mused.