Community Gardening

JOHNSTOWN – Dale West has a vision for the future – create a community-supported garden where people can either buy lower-cost fresh vegetables or exchange working in the garden for fresh vegetables all season long.

“They fill out an order form with what they want ahead of time and the following week they can pick up a box with all their vegetables,” said West, who will be opening his vegetable stand on Tuesday to the public. “But what we really need is for people to know they can work in the garden in exchange for shares.”

West has a small garden – about a quarter of an acre – at his Hill Street home and will be supplementing the homegrown vegetables from his garden with those grown by the Amish to create a community supported agriculture system, known as a CSA.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture website, a CSA “consists of a community of individuals who pledge support to a farm operation so that the farmland becomes, either legally or spiritually, the community’s farm, with the growers and consumers providing mutual support and sharing the risks and benefits of food production.”

In a CSA, participants, also known as “share-holders,” pay in advance for their share of the vegetables, typically around seven different varieties. Each week, members pick up their boxes of fresh vegetables throughout the growing season.

West said through his CSA, members will be able to also work off the cost of their vegetables by helping in the garden.

“If people would be willing to work in the CSA garden, I could work with them so they could get fresh vegetables in exchange – it is especially fun for families,” said West. “One family has spent a lot of time here. You could spend one weekend or two and get some groceries.”

The way it works, he explained, is that for each hour a person works in the garden, they are “paid” in “shares,” which can then be exchanged for vegetables each week.

For those who just want to purchase the vegetables, they pre-order ahead of time and pick up their box of vegetables on the following Friday.

“We will be using the CSA concept, explained West. “With that, if they prepay, you know you have a customer and you know how much to order [beyond what the garden will grow.]”

West said with most CSA’s customers only get what vegetables the farmer has at any given time in the growing season, but through his system, participants will be able to customize their orders and determine how many of each item they will need or want.

“I will have a list and they check off what and how many of each [vegetable] they want,” said West, who uses Mel Bartholomew’s square-foot gardening soil formula for growing his vegetables.

Patti Roten of Johnstown has been working in West’s garden since May.

“I always wanted to have a garden,” said Roten, who admits her yard is too small for the venture. “We (West) met in prayer group and I fell in love with the concept.”

She brings her son, Cameron Roten, and neighbor’s child, Autumn Kurtz, to also work in the garden.

“My son, Cam, has been doing a lot of the heavy stuff,” said Roten. “He has been the muscle behind all of this – he has rototilled, lifted all these heavy blocks and done so much of the really difficult labor.”

Kurtz, who was working in the garden on Wednesday, said she was actually having a good time.

“I thought it would be fun and it is,” said Kurtz, who was right in the middle of the digging and planting with Roten.

West, who owns Fisherman’s Supply Bookstore in Johnstown, said the garden stand, which opens Tuesday, will be open Monday through Friday from 3 to 6 p.m. with CSA pickups on Friday between 4 to 6 p.m.

For more information, call West at the bookstore, 762-3548, or at home, 725-6822. The vegetable stand is located at 72 Hill St.