Ripe for picking: Community garden offers free fruit, vegetables to all

Workers at the Yukon office of the Oklahoma Department of Health are hopeful they are planting the seeds of good nutrition.
Julie Morlan, the business office manager for the health department, said Monday that this year’s community garden is producing lots of vegetables … and believers in healthy food.
The employees at the health department began the garden about three years ago. With the help of inmates at the federal detention center in El Reno, and lots of volunteers and donations of seed, the garden is continuing to bloom.
Morlan said the garden is the result of a suggestion by Health Commissioner Dr. Terry Cline, who suggested that community gardens offered a unique opportunity to provide nutritional foods to those who might not otherwise have that option.
Morlan said they took the suggestion to heart.
Near the front of their building is a fence-enclosed area full of plants ripe for picking. And it is open for anyone who cares to take part, she said.
The fence is there only to keep the area safe. There are railroad tracks nearby, and Morlan said they do not want to take a chance of someone wandering into that area.
Otherwise, the gate is open from sunrise to sunset. There is even a sign that says so.
Bags are even provided.
There are tomato plants, zucchini, squash, cucumbers, green beans, okra and black-eyed peas. Lots of black-eyed peas.
“They’ve taken over,” Morlan said as she walked by the raised bed containing the plants.
The raised beds, themselves, were created by inmates at the federal prison. The fence was donated by Lowe’s.
It’s a community effort, said Morlan.
Even most of the seeds and soil were donated.
“It is basically a maintenance-free operation.”
And there are plans to expand the garden in the future.
The garden was designed by the Sam Nobel Center in Ardmore.
The garden was started by three health department workers, none of whom had any serious gardening experience.
So, they turned to a Yukon master gardener for advice. Also, students from Canadian Valley Technology Center’s horticulture program have offered some help.
“I feel like this is my baby,” Morlan said.
And this year, the word has gotten out about the free goodies. Morlan said foot traffic is up significantly.
The idea, she said, is to provide fresh fruit and vegetables to those who can least afford it, but need it the most.
“People can come by and supplement their supplies. We know how expensive fruit and vegetables are,” she said.
And now that the garden is growing, she said it is time to ask the community for a little more help. Morlan said they are hoping to attract people to participate on a community garden board, to help form its directions and to help maintain the garden.
She said it should be more than health department employees on the board.
“We are desperately looking for people to serve on the board. We want the community to participate,” she said.
Anyone interested in participating can contact Morlan at5 354-4872.
Meanwhile, she said the health department was recently notified that it is being honored with the Oklahoma Turning Pointe Champion Award for its fight against obesity.
Officials will receive the award during a ceremony in August.

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