It’s hard to drive anywhere in Indiana without spotting fields of crops, yet fresh food is still out of reach for many residents.
Hauser High School senior Sarah Craig is trying to change that for the town of Hope. With the donation of a two-acre plot from farmer Gary Dodd, Craig will establish a community garden.
“We are so blessed to live in a country where food is readily available and fertile soil is accessible,” she said. “Unfortunately, healthy foods are often expensive, and I hoped to use this garden to provide everyone with fruits and vegetables, regardless of income.”
The project is part of Craig’s supervised agricultural experience class for school.
“What started out as a couple raised beds has grown into this two-acre community project,” agriculture teacher Aleesa Dickerson said.
It has also grown to include sponsors.
Hope farmers Jim and Bev Pence received a $2,500 America’s Farmers: Grow Communities grant through the Monsanto Fund and donated the money to the Hope FFA chapter for use on the community garden.
Dickerson said much of that money will go toward purchasing rain barrels to use as a water source this summer.
In the meantime, Craig has been germinating seeds under indoor grow lights for the past few weeks, starting with tomatoes, beans, peas, two kinds of peppers, radishes, squash and cucumbers.
In a few weeks, those plants will be taken across State Road 9 to Dodd’s farm.
It’s a new experience for Craig, who has learned about gardening online and from experienced farmers in her community.
“I’ve always lived completely surrounded by agriculture, but I’ve never been that involved,” she said. “I took a couple of classes that really opened my eyes to how important agriculture is, how much farmers do for our country.”
This will be a pilot for a community project Craig hopes continues for many years to come. She has recruited volunteers and FFA members to help out with this year’s harvests, but she invites community members to do the same.
She’s been asked to name another student to oversee the garden in the future when she starts her studies at Grace College and Theological Seminary in Winona Lake to become a missionary.
Craig said she is thankful for what the project has taught her — from networking and planning to germinating and harvesting.
She also said she is glad her efforts will benefit families in her community.
“I think that sometimes it is easy to get caught up in doing good things such as community service to build a good resume,” she said. “I have always strived to live a life of integrity, doing what I know is right, even when no one sees.”
Dickerson said she and Craig have spoken with representatives from Healthy Communities, which has a goal to make fresh fruits and vegetables available to more families. Harvests from the garden may be distributed among the community through a food pantry.
Craig hopes community members will not only help with the harvest but learn from it.
“It’s great, getting produce for no monetary expense,” she said. “But this is better, when you put in the effort to do it yourself. You see your hard work come to fruition.”