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The members of the Knob Hill Gardening Club get a lot out of their gardening – but they give a lot as well.
The club, which was formed in 2007 by residents of, and neighbors to, the Knob Hill Farm 55+ active adult community, consists of 13 experienced and novice gardeners who cultivate a quarter-acre plot of land off of Cambridge Road in Honey Brook Township.
Jerry West, a member of the club, said that it has been custom for the members to give away to neighbors what food they themselves cannot eat, freeze, or can. Quite recently, however, they have found a much needed beneficiary for the excess take from their garden – the Chester County Food Bank.
“We started ‘Grow a Row for Others’ in mid-June of this year,” said West, “we are able to feed ourselves but we want to help those who are hungry. I was surprised to find out that 13,000 – 15,000 kids in Chester County alone go to bed hungry… ….and the Chester County Food Bank is looking for 15 percent of their food (in the form of) fresh vegetables.”
Since he first began giving to the food bank – members donate separately – West alone has contributed 528 pounds of food.
“I have been keeping track of my own personal donations,” he said, “I go every week.”
West himself initiated contact with the food bank while driving by the Downingtown location one day. He simply dropped in and spoke to a manager there about using the extra food produced from the garden.
“The Chester County Food Bank has commercial-grade facilities to processes the fresh food they receive, and it uses that food to feed 26 centers,” he said, “The people with the food bank make the meals themselves and also preserve some (through methods such as) dehydration.”
After having his conversation at the food bank West called every member on his Gardening Club list and pitched the idea to them, which was very well received.
“We need more things like (people growing their own food) to help communities and people in need,” said member Paul Sweatlock. “It is fun, gives you fresh food, and contributes to a healthy lifestyle.”
The land for the Knob Hill Gardening Club garden is provided on loan from owners Sylvia and Jeff Beck, who own adjacent farmland.
Township resident and Gardening Club member Bill Kennedy, who lives next to the garden, provides water from his well and has set up a wooden bench engraved with an inscription which invites all to take a seat and relax. There is also a large beach umbrella, which has been set up to provide shade for even more pleasing seated respites.
“It is good to have the Gardening Club as my neighbors,” said Kennedy, “I have made a lot of friends.”
West said that the heavy work of turning the soil is performed by others, but that the club members do all of the growing and harvesting.
“The gentleman who owns Brandywine Shoe Store, Omar Kauffman, comes by and plows the garden when it is needed – he does the plowing with four mules. Then, another fellow from the areas tills the garden for us. It is all done for a very fair price,” said West.
There are stakes to organize rows for the members, with some tending to multiple rows and other to less. The club grows just about everything that one can think of except for corn, which West said was too intensive and easily available elsewhere. The resulting variety of herbs and vegetables are consumed, exchanged, and shared, as are gardening tips and recipes. What the club cannot give away – the inedible parts of the vegetation – is set aside for composting.
“In the beginning getting your part of the garden ready is a lot of work,” said club member Mary Ann Fritsky. “Now I would say I spend just a couple of hours a week in the garden. I check in on it every other day or so.”
The members make their own gardening schedules, but paths often cross and that is when the social benefits of belonging to the club come into play.
“Some days we will just sit down for a while and socialize,” said Kennedy. “I’ll bring over some drinks from the house and we’ll talk until it gets dark.”
“I moved here three years ago,” said Fritsky, “I made a lot of friends by just giving out food from the garden. I have learned a lot from my gardening neighbors. I enjoy the people, learning about gardening, and our sharing.”
The club is proud of the fact that none of its members use pesticides. Their seeds come from all sources, with Sweatlock even growing his own plants from seed during the winter.
There is also the benefit of the physical activity itself, which reaps much-needed rewards.
“It’s good being out here in the garden,” said member Mike Walker, an avid tomato grower currently tending to plants bearing plum, cherry and beefsteak tomatoes, which he uses to make thing like sauce. “It’s move it or lose it, so you have to keep doing what you can to keep moving. Plus there’s the weeding - weeding is the best exercise!”
“I enjoy bring my grandchildren to the garden,” said member John McMullen, “I think it is important for kids to learn about food and where it comes from. It doesn’t have to come out of a package.”
The Knob Hill Garden Club Members are Mike Walker, John McMullen, Paul Sweatlock, Mary Ann Fritsky, Jerry West, Bill Kennedy, John McDonald, Dick Antonson, Irene Henning, Fred Kraidman, Louie Maccarino, Carolyn Speakman and Ellen Tamburri.