A group of strangers passes around freshly picked grapes, discussing weeding methods and soil quality on a September afternoon. After finding common ground on their similar interest and their love for the natural taste of the grapes, smiles emerged on their faces.
The Kendal Community Kitchen Garden, established in 1998 by Reeshon Feuer, has become an important part of the day-to-day life at Kendal at Ithaca, a local retirement community, located off of Route 13.
The garden is completely run by the Kendal residents and maintenance staff at Kendal, from April 1 to the end of October.
Andy Oliver, 84, a resident of Kendal, said he spends four to five hours a day tending to the garden and finds joy in the task.
“I enjoy the satisfaction of how well the flowers and vegetables respond to people’s efforts and Mother Nature’s willingness to go along with this,” he said.
Tucked next to the facilities of the community, the half-acre garden is surrounded by a chain-link fence. There are 36 plots organized in neat rows, with walking space created in between. The initials of the 20 gardeners are neatly marked on small posts at the end of each plot.
The gardeners choose the type and quantity of plants, and whether the plants are grown organically. From tomatoes to roses, to basil, the residents are able to choose any type of fruit, vegetable, flower or herb to plant.
After retiring from farming at age 80, Oliver took on the task of running the garden.
“I’m still physically able,” he said. “The garden encourages [the residents] to be up and be active.”
Gardening is a form of exercise for the residents. Being outdoors provides a positive environment and increases social activity and mobility. The people of the community are able to chat with one another while enjoying the colorful array of flowers and vegetables.
Cathy Crimes, a resident and gardener at Kendal, said it is therapeutic to spend time in the garden.
“I find it very relaxing,” she said. “They say gardening is very good for older people. It lowers the blood pressure, and I have very low blood pressure, so maybe it’s the gardening.”
Once harvested, the fruits and vegetables remain within the community. The gardeners not only use the produce in their own cooking, but they also share them with others. Crimes used the food she grows in her plot for home-cooked meals.
“We all eat so much better,” she said. “I find cooking very therapeutic. I’m devoted to Julia Child.”
Oliver said he is more than willing to share his secrets of the trade with not only the Kendal residents, but other local gardeners as well. Vegetable and flower enthusiasts from outside of Kendal came together to attend a tour of the kitchen garden that Oliver conducted, looking forward to absorbing new knowledge in the process.
Tanya Garger, a local master gardener, visited the garden.
“You can always learn something new by visiting other gardens,” she said.
Visitors like Garger learned about gardening methods such as crop rotation, and the appropriate time to plant certain flowers.
Barbara Moyer, also a master gardener, came to the garden to learn new gardening methods.
“Gardeners are like sharers,” she said. “I like being outside, being in the dirt. It’s relaxing.”
Moyer is also in tune to the individual pleasures that come with growing food and flowers.
“You know when you grow it yourself it’s not full of chemicals,” she said. “I’m all for supporting local growers.”
During a garden tour in September, Oliver eagerly picked an over-ripe tomato off the plant and tossed it over the fence to an awaiting family of deer. The guests laughed as the deer casually waited for the next tomato to be thrown, chomping on their feast. One by one, gardeners threw the rotting tomatoes over the fence, another example of the sharing that comes from a garden.
Oliver stood back and smiled at the enthusiasm of his guests.
“A garden is a wonderful place to be and have a good time,” he said.