Potter County is looking for individuals and groups to plant the seeds of a community garden. Literally, the county is seeking volunteers to plant and tend seeds for their personal use or use of others.

The Potter County Community Garden is the brainchild of Judge Stephen Minor, who wanted to simulate a similar program in McKean County, the Growing Greener Garden. COVID-19 delayed the start, but this year the garden beds have been built, seeds donated, equipment shed stocked and a fence is going up. All that remains is to get the gardeners.

Four groups came together to create the garden: UPMC, Potter County, Penn State Cooperative Extension and the Potter County Conservation District.

Located at 7 Water St., Coudersport, the 24 4-by-8-foot beds are next to the Extension building and behind the Gunzberger Government Building, said garden board member Sheila Grabeski. The beds, composting area, shed and fence were built by the county’s buildings and grounds department, led by Joe Kurtz.

The garden serves a two-fold purpose: giving families access to healthy, local produce and providing a community service component for selected inmates at the jail.

“From the county perspective, there are so many things right with this partnership and project that I am most pleased to be associated with it,” said Commissioner Barry Hayman. “From providing food-insecure county residents with fresh food to providing the men in our county jail an opportunity to learn a lifelong skill to demonstrating to the community that indeed state, county, and private agencies can indeed work together, this project has so much promise for all involved.”

Despite being a rural area, Potter County has a significant amount — 19% of its almost 17,000 residents — who are “food insecure,” said Commissioner Barry Hayman.

Large areas of the county lack access to the county’s four full-service grocery stores. Instead, communities are served by dollar stores, convenience stores and country stores where most of the available food is heavily processed. Rising food prices has compounded the issue.

The Community Garden will allow families and organizations to grow and use fresh produce. Extra produce will be donated to the county’s six food pantries or shared in farmstand.

UPMC Health Plan provided funding for start-up costs. The county provided legal assistance and labor to construct the site. Extension and the conservation district will provide education, on gardening how-to’s, rain barrel and composting workshops, and recipes for preparing their harvest for the table, Grabeski said.

The system is intended to be self-supporting and low cost. The planning committee has 300 packets of seeds, donated by W.Atlee Burpee & Co and Botanical Interests, a shed with gardening tools to use, hose and a handicapped-accessible bed. All the gardeners need is time and a plan.

“Folks could come in and plant a garden to feed a family, but they need some type of plan,” Grabeski said.

They can get that training at an Introduction to Gardening Workshop, scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Thursday, June 9, at the Extension office. The workshop is free, but registration is required. Call 814-274-8540 ext. 100 or email srg22@psu.edu.

Colleen Bray has accepted the position of garden manager and will oversee the operations. Organizers began accepting applications for the raised beds this week.

There are some stipulations for growing: no sprays, chemicals, tobacco use or pets are allowed. Gardeners can use the donated seeds, or purchase starter plants from area nurseries.

The central location should make the garden accessible to Coudersport residents.

With success in Coudersport, organizers hope to enhance the garden with possibly a pavilion and expand to other communities, possibly Ulysses, Shinglehouse, Galeton or Austin.

To reserve a garden plot free of charge, contact Hayman at 814-274-8290 ext. 201 or bhayman@pottercountypa.net to request an application.

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