Norton PRIDE Launches Community Garden

Norton PRIDE Launches Community Garden Main Photo

21 Sep 2018

Community Development

Norton PRIDE was organized in the fall of 2016 following a First Impressions review of the Norton Community which reflected both positive and negative attributes of our Norton Community.   Since it's inception as a Pride Community, and part of the Kansas PRIDE program through K-State, Norton has participated in the local Strategic Planning for Norton County.  Following these sessions each year Pride designs many of its projects around those identified needs from this planning meeting. The May 2017 session of Strategic Planning had an idea of development of a community garden.  Two attendees from the Methodist Church felt that this was something their church under a healthy congregation program with the state church conference had dreamed of doing but needed community support. They were agreeable to partnering with PRIDE in this endeavor for man power and support to make a garden a reality in 2018.  

     The first two meetings were held at the Methodist Church.  At the first one a representative from the Methodist Church Big garden program in Omaha came and shared about this program, how it worked in the Methodist Church conference, what support could be given, along with the availability of start up funds that could be used to start a garden project if the congregation chose to be a "healthy congregation".   This grant and support requirements were shared and the area of the Methodist Church grounds was toured as a possible sight. At the Next meeting Nadine Sigle from K-State Extension-Osborne came to share community garden information and several pride communities project gardens. She strongly suggested starting small and building the program. Those most successful had an organizational plan and officers where setting goals and not trying to do everything at once was stressed.  She left us with an extension tool kit on "how to".   Other highlights for focus included several business and community partners; the school to make the raised beds, the city for water on a separate meter, the Methodist Church congregation for funding and a site for the garden.

    The next several meetings were held at the Heaton building dealing with getting a program set up, planning, grant funding, rules, etc.  With the plan for more structure in organization several individuals opted to take a less involved part in this group.  With no one coming forth to head this group PRIDE decided to carry this plan on for the immediate future. Reva Benien, PRIDE chair would work on the development of the structure of the group while Katie Allen, Norton County Hospital Foundation & Live Well Norton and Tara Vance with the Norton County Community Foundation volunteered to help with funding.   Katie also was very involved with the garden in Manhattan Kansas and offered to compose a mission statement and structural rules for the garden group.  The City with Chad Buckley, Administrator offered help procuring dirt/compost site for soil needed in the spring for the raised beds.  Denise Schmitz who is involved with the organic garden in Concordia along with Gil Otter who has been a long term gardener with expertise in planting and composting offered their help.  Patsy Maddy, Twin Creeks Extension youth program, had ideas for working with the school in a hoop garden with kids. Keith Vanskike, local extension agent, offered to help with soil issues and plant concerns.  

    Over the next few months this group struggled with organization and membership as no one was coming forth to lead.  Pride, following the guideline tool kit of the garden plan, worked to set up details of the function of the garden group.   However, as this was to be an on-going project the PRIDE Core Committee felt it important to maintain a partnering supportive role not a doing role.   A draft mission statement and gardening rules we set up for the group. The garden committee would review such, elect officers, and meet with the Methodist Church Trustee group for a land use proposal.  Denise Schmitz was elected President, Kathleen Beckman Vice President, Chad Buckley/Jill Lively Secretary and Reva Benien, Treasurer for the garden group. With officers in place, the New Year of 2018 brought new vision and leadership to the newly formed Norton Community Garden Coalition.  In addition to a name, a mission statement was developed.


Mission Statement/ Vision → the mission of the Norton Community Garden is to “provide all citizens of Norton County the opportunity to grow and have access to fresh foods through collaborative gardening efforts.”    This is the suggested mission statement and focus that Katie suggested for the grant. Those present feel it is a good one and will adopt it. Katie shares that officers and mission statement are important as is the name of the group/garden.  Name of "Norton Community Garden Coalition" is presented and adopted as well.


A plan for a community meet and eat program at the Pizza Hut for those interested in gardening was the next step.  With the financial support of Norton County Farm Bureau and the Norton Pizza Hut in covering cost of the meal this was held.  A great turn out was enjoyed and with the interest generated, it was projected we could support at least 16 raised beds along with some ground plots.

    The spring meetings covered approval of standing rules of order, land agreements for procuring a plot, gardener rules and sign up along with several grant requests for funding of the NCGC community garden.  With details of rules set in place we were ready to finalize land for our garden. After several land options were investigated, and pros/cons were weighed in, it was decided to pursue an agreement with the Norton County Commissioners for use of land just outside the city limits.  A gardener sign-up night was then held at the local library meeting room where gardeners reviewed the rules for the garden, signed permit forms, and paid for plot fees. The Norton Community Garden Coalition was pleased to receive grant funding from the Sisters of St Joseph Ministry fund, the Biochar Initiative Grant, and Midwest Energy which would allow us to get set up to garden.   

    Before planting we still had a lot of work to do to see our garden become a reality. Several workdays were spent with our gardeners, committee members, and volunteers to get us ready to plant.  Gil Otter worked with our local Ag Valley Cooperative to repurpose bins and crates for the frames of the raised beds. We partnered with the City to secure water with hydrants and get a waterline installed.  The ground plot was prepared by two local farmers who volunteered to plow, spread biochar, and till the area for us. A shed was purchased from USD211 which was designed and built by the local NCHS shop class.  Through a detailed process the shed was delivered to the garden site with support from local business' that provided a fork lift and oversized trailer. The biochar compost and dirt were soil tested by the local extension, plot beds filled, ground plots tilled, and yes the garden planted.   

    The garden season found gardeners tending to their beds, enjoying their produce, and sharing with others.   Since there was not interest in renting a ground spot the garden group cooperatively planted squash, watermelon, cantaloupe, pumpkins, and tomatoes. A local farmer provided us a large straw bail for mulching straw.   Everyone took a turn in weeding, watering, and caring for this area. Our harvest from this bed was shared with volunteers who helped along with God’s Pantry clients, low income families, Senior Center members, Sunshine Day Care kids, USD 211 teacher breakfast, and Whispering Pines retirement residents.   In addition to the sharing of food we placed entries to the open class horticulture department of the Norton County Fair. These entries included acorn squash, Anaheim peppers, basil, butternut squash, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, tomatoes, and watermelon. We were very pleased to be awarded blue ribbons on the basil, cherry tomatoes, and regular tomatoes with the watermelon taking the Horticulture Best of Show award and a purple ribbon.  We also had a fair information booth at the 4-H building to share about our community garden, the use of biochar in the composting of soil used in our beds, and the fall upcoming workshop on using and making biochar. One of our last projects of this season included our garden sign to identify the work of our NCGC. A local signage business helped with the sign lettering and logo while a local farmer made a metal frame and got our sign put up for us.

As the 2018 growing season comes to a close, Norton PRIDE feels good about the support given by the community of Norton and the wonderful input into our project from farmers and city folks alike.  Our worthwhile project to get people gardening, eating healthier, and doing so in a conserving and environmentally friendly manner could not have been accomplished without them. Another great project completed through Norton PRIDE for our town of Norton.