Justin Loger has pulled a respectable 37 zucchinis out of his garden since July 1, but by this time next year he expects that figure to shoot up well into the hundreds.
Loger plans to turn a side lot next to his home on Main Street in Peru into a community garden, and zucchinis are the exact sort of high-yield, space-efficient vegetables he wants to grow.
“I’ve had a green thumb all my life,” Loger said. “What really sparked the idea is that my dad gave me some words of wisdom that knowingly or unknowingly led to the idea. They were religious words, and I’m not really a religious person, but I asked him, ‘Why does God allow bad things to happen?’ He said, ‘Why does man?’”
Looking for a simple idea that would allow more good to happen, Loger settled on converting a lot rendered useless by a sewer line that passes through the property into a garden that could be harvested by the community or even donated.
“The original thought was for the community and people to grab what they want, but after disclosing my plans a lot of people suggested donating to the food pantry,” Loger said.
A portion of the side lot is currently occupied by Loger’s private garden which has grown robust looking zucchini plants, eggplants, tomatoes, peppers, and radishes.
Next year, Loger’s personal garden will move to the other side of his house, and an organized garden will fill in the entirety of the lot.
Loger announced his attentions on social media, people were excited about the idea, and aldermen have offered positive remarks.
“I think the concept of community gardens is a very good idea,” said alderman Dave Potthoff, whose ward includes Loger’s property. “As always, people will be receptive to the idea, but it will need work. That’s always the trump card with community gardens.”
Loger said he intends to finance the project himself, is ready to work and is under the impression community members will lend helping hands toward upkeep.
“I have the will and the means to do this,” Loger said. “When I disclosed this idea, it seemed the community had the will, but lacked the means. The only thing I regret is not doing this 10 years sooner.”
Exactly what the garden will grow remains undetermined, but Loger said the goal will be to focus on something that will produce a lot of produce.
“Ideally, I want things that are very high yielding,” he said. “There is going to be a lot of planning, but it should be fine. I’ll have all winter.”
Looking to Loger’s east offers a glimpse into the future of what his project could become.
In Utica, a community garden was started in January of 2016 at the former site of a trailer park on Grove Street.
“Last year was the first year we planted,” said John Pappas, a former Utica alderman who spearheads the project. “It was kind of a smaller garden. This year it’s a larger garden. It’s a big, beautiful garden. We’ve taken quite a bit of produce out of there.”
The garden, which is on village property, was made a reality through team work. Volunteers help tend the garden, the Village of Utica Garden Club worked on the projects, benches were donated, the village tilled the earth and Girl Scout Troop 1094 even planted a pollinator garden.
“Everyone who looks at this garden says it’s a pretty amazing garden,” Pappas said.
The Grove Street Garden contains hastas, flowers, zucchini, summer squash, butternut sqash, spaghetti squash, watermelon, tomatoes, bell peppers, hot peppers, radishes, cucumbers, carrots and more.
“We haven’t had any problems with pests,” Pappas said. “We have some marigolds planted around one garden.”
Pappas said the four main volunteers who handle the garden’s upkeep get first pick of the produce, a box of veggies has gone to the village hall, some residents pick from the garden themselves and a box is being collected to be donated to a food pantry.
“I would say it’s a great way to bring the community together,” Pappas said.