CHANGING HANDS: Community garden donated to Humanity House

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January 5, 2018 - 12:00 AM

Iola’s Elm Creek Community Garden, a standard for community gardens across the nation, is changing hands — and is getting a new name in the process.
The Humanity House Garden reflects the changeover, completed Thursday at Iola’s Great Southern Bank when Val and Carolyn McLean signed over the property to Humanity House.
The McLeans, who offered up use of their land in order to open the garden in 2005, are moving to Hutchinson.
“We have three granddaughters and other family there, and I have some farmland in western Kansas,” said Val, a retired baseball coach and academic adviser at Allen Community College. “This gets me closer to that.”
The donation covers all 20 acres on which the garden sits, plus all of the tractors, tillers and other equipment accumulated by ECCG over the past 13 years.
Tracy Keagle, Humanity House founder, said the garden rules will remain largely in place.
“The only thing we might change is maybe adding winter crops to grow all winter long, and allow people to grow past the growing season, if they can do it without water.”
The donation was a relatively simple process, Val said, because both Elm Creek Community Garden and Humanity House are certified non-profit organizations.
“It was an easy decision to do this because of Tracy’s involvement,” he said, noting Keagle has been a regular gardener at ECCG, and at one time was even the garden’s administrator.
Since Humanity House was formed, she continued to grow produce there, giving it all away to folks around town.
Such practices likely will continue, she said, but will depend on how many plots are available once they are all rented.
The 122 plots rent for $25 piece. Renters are given full access to the tools and water. And, in keeping with Elm Creek Community Garden’s tradition, free plots will be given to low-income growers. Several of the plots are elevated as well for users with accessibility issues.
Of note, the city set up a fund a few years back to collect donations to help pay for the garden’s water usage, although those collections have been exhausted, Iola City Clerk Roxanne Hutton noted Friday.
Those seeking to donate for water usage, or to inquire about renting a plot, are encouraged to call Humanity House at (620) 380-6664.
Among the garden tools is a tractor the McLeans have donated as well, but with a caveat.
They also own the garage in which the tractor sits, just south of the garden. However, Humanity House will lose access to the garage if and when the McLeans sell the rest of their property and their house at 702 S. First St.
“So, we’re in search of a garage,” Keagle said.

THE MCLEANS decided to kick start the Elm Creek Community Garden in 2005, but it was hardly a solo effort.
For starters, the land along South First Street was largely undeveloped. “It looked like Vietnam,” Val joked.
They were just beginning to clear trees, brush and other debris when, of all people, Keagle drove by.
She volunteered to help, the McLeans gladly accepted, and within a few weeks the undeveloped land was ready for growing.
The community quickly embraced the community garden concept, and it became an ideal growing site for green thumbs near and far.
“I will miss greatly the city of Iola, and the so many people who have supported the garden,” said Val, a retired instructor and baseball coach at Allen Community College.
“It took a village to run this garden,” Carolyn agreed, noting the numerous awards the garden has received.
The crowning glory may have been last fall, when officials with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation paid Iola a visit as part of the community’s Culture of Health recognition.
The McLeans were told the group had visited more than 200 others community gardens across the country.
“They told us other gardens were bigger, but we have the best ones hands down,” Val said.
They have little doubt Humanity House will maintain the lofty standards.
“I know Tracy will do it even bigger and better,” Val said.
Carolyn recalled driving by the garden site after she and her husband agreed to donate it to Humanity House.
“I felt relief,” she said. “It’s in good hands.”
As luck would have it, the McLeans’ home in Hutchinson is surrounded on both sides by coaches of various sports. But with its little backyard, the couple is unlikely to do much growing.
“No room for a garden any more,” Val said with a smile.

PHOTO: From left, Val and Carolyn McLean, owners of Elm Creek Community Garden, officially hand the title of the garden over to Humanity House founder, Tracy Keagle. Also on hand is Geri Uphoff, former secretary/treasurer for ECCG. Not pictured is Roberta Shirley, former ECCG vice president.

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