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Friday, May 6, 2016

Faces and Places -- Community garden takes root

Thursday, March 17, 2011

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From top to bottom: The sign near the community garden alongside Highway 63 thanks numerous sponsors. Begonia seedlings are carefully labeled. Thayer High School FFA member Leslie Arnold prepares to plant okra seeds to be ready for spring planting.
Just starting its second growing season, the Thayer-Mammoth Spring Rotary Club Community Garden project is flourishing.

By February, all 50 of the garden plots alongside Highway 63 South between the two cities had been leased to area gardeners.

Rotarian Robert Cicigoi was honored last year as the group's Citizen of the Year for his proposal to create the garden, although he credits many others for their contributions.

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"It was my idea, but it took a lot of help from many other people to make it work," Cicigoi said Monday, March 14.

Following the organization's goal of promoting service to its community, Cicigoi first pitched his plan to the local Rotary Club. From there, the club asked the city of Thayer for help.

The city provided the group an acre of unused land near the park and rodeo arena on Rodeo Drive for $1 annually, and then helped clear the site of trees and brush. City crews also built a road to the garden and added a water line.

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From there, club members, Mammoth Spring and Thayer FFA students and other volunteers added 350 feet of water lines and four hydrants, erected a 6-foot fence and tilled the land.

Last year, 35 of the 50 spaces were leased. On the 15 spots that were not rented, Rotary members grew produce to donate to area senior centers and food pantries.

For their $20 lease, gardeners will receive about $100 worth of free seed and starter plants. Also, the soil is tilled, tested for nutrients and fertilized. The city provides free mulch to control weeds and retain moisture.

Thayer FFA members grow the starter plants in the school's greenhouse, beginning about the first of March.

By planting time, the greenhouse will be full of tomato, pepper, cabbage and okra seedlings.

Before ordering the seeds and other supplies, students searched through wholesale catalogs and worked out a cost analysis, Thayer FFA advisor Dustin Braschler said.

"Last year, we had enough tomato plants for every resident in Alton and Thayer to have at least two," Braschler said.

After their order arrived this winter, Braschler's students spent many hours plopping tiny seeds into starter trays during their seventh-hour class.

"It's a lot more hands-on than other classes," Thayer High School senior Leslie Arnold said.

During the school's recent Barnyard Day event, Superintendent Dan Chappell toured the greenhouse, commending the students for their work.

Chappell, who has a horticulture degree, said the garden project benefits many -- from those who lease the plots, to volunteers who help make it a success and the FFA students.

"I think it's going to go well," Chappell said. "These kids are creating something people want, and that creates value."

Cicigoi said the project also brings residents together, with many stopping after work to tend their plots. At about 5:30 p.m., the sun goes behind the trees, creating a pleasant, shady garden site.

"It's a good deal and a good location," Cicigoi said.