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New Hershey Community Garden is more like a park for gardeners
on October 11, 2013 at 6:34 AM, updated October 11, 2013 at 6:41 AM
Hershey unveiled the area's newest community garden last week at the west end of the Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center campus.
Picture a 1-acre field that gets plowed each spring and divided into rectangular plots, each tended by water-can-toting retired guys in straw hats.
Now forget that, because other than the 1-acre part (and maybe a few straw hats), this is a new-generation community garden that feels more like a park for gardeners.
No field-plowing will happen here.
The Hershey Community Garden (has its own distinct, fenced-in space – complete with water and electricity – near the medical center's Bullfrog Valley Road entrance.
Gardeners who reserve one of the 125 raised-bed plots will enter a gate and walk down a paver path to a lobby-like gathering area, centered by a circular, stone-block planter that's currently planted with mums. A working street light that once stood inside Hershey's Chocolate World rises out of it.
Surrounding the center circle are six more waist-high, stone planters – growing plots to be set aside for wheelchair gardeners.View full sizeHershey Community Garden features a gazebo, six hose outlets and a grassy plot for picnic tables.George Weigel
Turn right and a 100-foot paver path leads to a gazebo.
Along the path on the right is a grassy area with three trees and, next spring, picnic tables.
On the left is a 12-by-30-foot shed stocked with rakes, hoes, shovels, wheelbarrows and other growing weapons for the free use of the community gardeners.
Six water outlets are stationed throughout the 1 acre, and hoses will reach to every one of the garden's 125 plots. In other words, no water-lugging.
"Everything will be there for people to use so they won't have to bring anything," says Todd Camp, The Hershey Co.'s senior director of corporate social responsibility and community relations who's also the garden project co-manager.
The only cost to gardeners – a suggested donation of $25 per year.
The deal apparently was sweet enough in the Hershey community that by the time an Oct. 5 Open House day with music, food and Hershey characters finished, applications were in the can for all of the available plots.
The garden will open for planting next April.
The whole idea is a natural fit on a medical-center campus.
One of Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center's linchpins is promoting healthier lifestyles, said Alan L. Brechbill, the center's executive director.
"To have a garden on our campus is very, very special," he said. "It's a great combination where you can get exercise and grow healthy vegetables at the same time."
But this wasn't just a medical-center project.
The Hershey Community Garden is rooted in early 2011 at The Hershey Company when Patty Wells, a logistics-department employee, broached the idea of a community garden there.
"At first, we were thinking it would be just a Hershey Company garden, but we couldn't find land where it could go," says Camp.
The idea was brought up at a meeting of a recently formed, synergy-minded group called Hershey Impact, which comprises executives from The Hershey Company, Milton Hershey School, Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, Hershey Entertainment and Resorts and The M.S. Hershey Foundation.
"That's where this grew much bigger than the original intent," Camp says.
The medical center offered the land, and the design was done by Dave Warren of Hershey Nursery, an arm of Hershey Entertainment and Resorts. But all of the entities have supplied financial backing, supplies, resources and/or manpower to build what is estimated to be a $110,000 project.
The community also got involved.
Garden project co-manager Crystal Huff, director of the Milton Hershey School's agriculture and environmental education program, says 70 community volunteers spent two weekends (and then some) installing the 125 hemlock-wood, raised-bed plots.
"Some of them were students at the Medical Center, some were employees of the companies, some were just friends and neighbors," she says, adding. "We've been hearing a lot of good feedback. People are excited it's here."
The early applicants have included medical students, employees of the various companies and people who live nearby but who don't have a good place to garden.View full sizeSome of the 125 raised-bed plots that make up Hershey Community Garden.George Weigel
The plots come in three different sizes. The two biggest are already set aside for volunteers from Hershey Impact to grow food that will be donated to the Hershey Food Bank and the nearby Hershey Farmer's Market, where clients in the medical center's Food As Medicine program can pick up donations "prescribed" by their doctors.
Another section is reserved for kids and education programs.
A compost pile is in the works, access will be controlled by keypad locks, and a committee has come up with a list of garden rules, such as organic methods only, no smoking and no letting your plot grow into a weedy mess.
A seasonal garden manager is to be hired to run the day-to-day operations.
"We talked to a lot of existing community gardens to understand what was working, what was not and what recommendations they could give us," says Camp.
Among them was the Ames True Temper garden in Hampden Twp., now in its third year and similar in size and operation.
Depending on how the rollout goes, Hershey Community Garden could be expanded to a second and nearly acre-sized grassy plot across Lifeline Drive from the initial area.
Not Hershey's first community garden
The Hershey Community Garden isn't Derry Twp.'s first ever.
In 1917, Hershey founder Milton S. Hershey set aside 6 acres in east Hershey for what was then called a "community farm."
The action was in response to the federal government's appeal for Americans to expand the domestic food supply during World War I.
Hershey Estates also set aside community gardening plots from 1942 through 1949 during the World War II "Victory Garden" campaign.>