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Oak Ridge garden provides fresh produce, health benefits

Gardeners created this hummingbird and butterfly garden as well, complete with a butterfly house. (Star Gazette photo by Katrina Styx)1 / 3
Alva Paiva is pictured in the biggest section of the resident vegetable garden. (Star Gazette photo by Katrina Styx)2 / 3
Bella Lehmer is growing nothing but tomatoes this year in one of the garden’s raised beds. (Star Gazette photo by Katrina Styx)3 / 3

About 10 years ago, the only garden to speak of at Oak Ridge Manor was a small piece of land that saw minimal use. Today, that garden is a well-tended plot that provides all sorts of vegetables for Oak Ridge residents.

The garden this year is kept by a group of 13 resident gardeners, each of whom plant and maintain their own plot or plots within the garden space. This is Bella Lehmer’s first season working in the Oak Ridge garden. She’s planted tomatoes and – well, more tomatoes. Before moving to Hastings and Oak Ridge Manor, she said, she had kept a big garden of her own. This one, although it’s quite a bit smaller than what she’s used to, gives her just the chance she needs to experience the amazing transformation plants go through as they grow.

Lehmer is using one of the garden’s raised beds. The raised beds, constructed by the Hastings High School shop class, allow residents with less mobility and those with wheelchairs to have access to gardening. Although Lehmer said she picked the plot because she thought it was the last one left, she appreciates the extra height.

“I don’t have to stoop down so far to get the weeds out,” she said.

As an additional plus, the raised beds don’t seem to grow as many weeds as ground-level plots, she said.

Alva Paiva’s father was a farmer, she said, so she grew up with a pretty good understanding of what it takes to grow a successful garden. She said she appreciates the gardens for the chance to exercise and get outdoors. Since she started gardening, she said her health has improved, too. Her doctor noted that her blood pressure, cholesterol and weight all were down, and she said the difference was being active in the garden.

Gardening requires a certain dedication and activity, as gardeners have to be out watering and weeding fairly often to make sure their plants thrive.

“Just about every day you’re out there,” Paiva said.

Jean Cieminski also has a gardening background. Her parents, when they moved to Indiana, she said, went to neighboring farmers and got some land from them to start his own garden.

“I’ve gardened all my life,” Cieminski said.

When she raised her own family, she taught the skills to her children, as well. Like Lehmer, the Oak Ridge plots aren’t what Cieminski is used to.

“This is just a teaser,” she said, but it’s just enough.

“I like to get out and get my hands in the dirt,” she said

Cieminski’s garden is a bit of an experiment this year, she said. Although she’s growing the tomatoes like many others, she’s also trying kale, which is apparently growing rather well this year.

Paiva is growing tomatoes, kale and snow peas, among others.

When it comes time to harvest, those residents who grow the plots can use their fresh vegetables for all sorts of things. Some of them can their produce or use it to make all sorts of dishes. Many of them, though, share the bounty. A table is set up inside Oak Ridge Manor where growers can set out their harvest to share with other residents.

“Sometimes we share, sometimes we make things and share what we make,” Cieminski said.

Paiva turns her tomatoes into homemade salsa, which she then sells at the annual Oak Ridge bazaar, held every November.

The bazaar, they said, is the primary fundraiser that pays for the garden and other resident programs.

The gardeners credited Al Risberg, who is the manager at Oak Ridge Manor, for the work he did in establishing the gardens.

“He’s the one that got all this started,” Paiva said, citing the long days he put into planning for the space.

His work led to the creation of the garden club, the gardeners said.

They also noted Dorothy Endersbee, a former resident, who brought her strong business and community connections into the garden to help it succeed and grow.

Along with the vegetable garden, Paiva has been keeping up a hummingbird and butterfly garden, a small area filled with flowers just to attract those little creatures. The spot has a pair of benches, making it a preferred place to sit and relax for some of the residents.

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