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Ken Craig Community Garden Provides Local Produce and Educational Opportunities

Photography Provided

During these uncertain times, many would-be vegetable gardeners are becoming will-be gardeners. However, excitement over the prospect of trying a new hobby can be accompanied by a lack of self-confidence, especially for those with no idea whether their thumb is green or black.

Community gardens are typically large plots tended by several families who share the harvest. The Ken Craig Community Garden in Knox is no exception.

“Our mission is to provide a garden space for the community, and it’s also to teach people how to garden,” explains Rick Martin, head gardener. “It’s also to share. Everything we grow, we give away.”

Martin first conceived the idea for the garden in 2015.

“I was at a convention and a local garden leader from Porter County was speaking,” he says. “That night I went back to my hotel room and I kept waking up with this thought of starting a community garden. I went back to bed multiple times and kept waking up with this on my mind. I think it was divinely inspired.”

After the conference, Martin and some others who shared the vision developed a plan for the garden. They decided to name it after Ken Craig, who passed away from a brain tumor a few years prior.

“Anyone who knew him would know that he was a very giving person,” Martin says of Craig. “He believed that if someone asked for help, no matter what it was, if it was within your power and ability to do so, that you help. That is kind of our mission and our vision for the garden.”

By early 2016, the Ken Craig Community Garden was a 501(c)(3) charitable organization and ready for its first growing season behind the Church of the Nazarene, where Martin serves as pastor. Since then, the concept for the garden has grown. As the organization’s leaders look forward to their fifth season, they have expanded from a simple vegetable garden to include fruit trees, a grape arbor, herbs, and even a pollinator garden with bees.

And that’s only on the outside. The organization has a greenhouse that allows its growing season to begin sooner than usual, and a year-round hydroponics system donated by a local businessman.

“Our goal is really to grow all year round,” Martin says.

Last fall and winter, the organization grew and gave away cold-weather crops such as lettuces.

As a long-time gardener in his own right, Martin understands the importance of taking care of more than just the people who depend on the produce from the garden. He and his team take great care to be as ecologically and environmentally responsible as possible.

“We plant heirloom, non-GMO varieties and we don’t use harsh chemicals,” Martin says. “We’re as organic as possible without the certification. We know that the roots are in the soil, and the soil absorbs whatever you put on it.”

The number of volunteers who work alongside Martin and his team has grown, and they have all enjoyed the fruits of their labor. Without them, it would be impossible for the garden to thrive.

Community residents are welcome to come and get produce from the garden, and families connected the local food pantries and Bella Vita Pregnancy Center have also benefitted.

“Every Thursday evening, [Bella Vita] has a Purdue Extension person that comes in and teaches these young mothers and fathers how to cook,” Martin says. “We try to pick produce on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and I let Bella Vita know what we’re bringing. They contact Purdue Extension and say, ‘Hey, this is what we have,’ and that person can make a meal plan for that class.”

Ultimately, the Ken Craig Community Garden leaders help to feed the hungry and train inexperienced gardeners.

“What I hope to see is that people would check us out – maybe they could be encouraged to have their own garden or start a community garden in their immediate community,” Martin says.

The Ken Craig Community Garden is located at 1801 South Heaton Street in Knox. For more info, visit facebook.com/kencraigcommunitygarden. Anyone interested in getting involved can contact Rick Martin at knxcommgrdn@yahoo.com or at 574-249-9378.

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