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PHOTO BY HEATHER BONHAM  From left, Eron Skilton, Anne Snow, Jim Tillinghast and Lanelle Montgomery work on the community garden March 11 at Lake Travis United Methodist Church.
PHOTO BY HEATHER BONHAM

From left, Eron Skilton, Anne Snow, Jim Tillinghast and Lanelle Montgomery work on the community garden March 11 at Lake Travis United Methodist Church.

By Heather Bonham

Contributing Writer

Janie Gentil’s grandchildren devoured the spinach she served them for dinner Sunday night, greens freshly harvested from her personal plot in the Lake Travis United Methodist Church community garden.

She gardens with her friend, Anne Snow, who loves to prepare fresh pesto from garden-grown basil and cilantro – to give to friends as hostess gifts before a party.

The women are two of several gardeners using the 13 raised beds at the church’s community garden, which organizer Lanelle Montgomery began three years ago.

The garden, used mainly by church members, is open to community members. When Montgomery realized that not many realized the garden was open to the community, she decided to actively promote that fact this year.

Gardeners pay $20 for a 4-foot by 4-foot plot and $40 for a 4-foot by 8-foot plot for a six-month term. The two terms run January through June and July through December.

Gardeners and other volunteers share the responsibilities that come with community gardening such as splitting the watering duty, helping prepare new beds on an as-needed basis and divvying up compost between the beds.

The program has sprouted a mix of beginning gardeners and those who love to share their green-thumb experiences.

“It’s great; I’ve learned about organic gardening, more than I ever knew before,” Gentil said, who was new to organic gardening when she joined the garden. “Anything we put in grows; even scraggly plants grow.”

Last year, Gentil and Snow bought some tired looking tomato plants. Others took one look at the plants, Gentil said, and assured them they had lost money on the deal. But the plants took root and grew.

“Actually, the tomatoes were the best ever and produced a lot,” she said.

Snow said gardening at the church was her first venture back into the hobby after a long hiatus. She said she was glad this opportunity opened up for her.

“It’s a lot of fun — the camaraderie with us girls,” Snow said. “We get a little dirty, and we laugh. We enjoy it, and it’s peaceful.”

It can be contemplative too, Snow said.

“I find mornings are the best time for gardening,” she said. “It’s a fresh start to the day. It’s a safe and great place to garden.”

Montgomery began organizing the garden with other volunteers in 2010. They started with five garden spots, testing different materials to use in creating raised beds, and settled on cinder blocks for the outside form.

Making gardening available to a lot of people appealed to Montgomery for a variety of reasons.

“There are a lot of different aspects to this,” she said. “My goal is to give people enough confidence and skills to do it on their own. People who live in apartments and don’t have the space, they can garden here.”

Beyond the actual gardening work, Montgomery wants to encourage the public to eat healthier. She hopes people will pay more attention to the types of foods they are eating and seek better, healthier food. This translates, for her, as organically and locally grown food.

“I have an interest in teaching people to know how to be more aware of their food,” she said.

More than a decade ago, Montgomery said she began studying where food comes from and researching the developing industry of genetically modified foods.

“People don’t really know the effects,” she said of eating food that is grown from seeds that are genetically modified. “They are starting to learn, but I don’t want to be part of that project.”

Gardening organically and eating food grown locally is Montgomery’s solution, and the community garden is an extension of her personal decisions.

“I want to give an option to do something instead of just worrying about it,” she said. “It’s a chance to take some positive steps and impact your own life.”

Montgomery said she began gardening in the mid-1990s, after moving to the area.

“I knew nothing about gardening then,” she said. “I started learning by making a lot of mistakes.”

She spends time with fellow gardeners, ready to help those who are just beginning their gardening experience.

“I love to mentor them,” she said, adding that she sometimes brings in outside speakers for different gardening topics.

She hopes to continue to increase the number of garden beds. Just recently, they added a special tabletop gardening bed for a woman who could not reach down to work on the ground bed.

In addition, Montgomery hopes to add cooking classes.

“I want to teach people to use what they’ve grown and teach them how to eat vegetables they’re not familiar with,” she said.

Snow said she and Gentil have their new plants ready to go for their new spring garden. Montgomery said plots are available to be leased for the season.

Those interested in joining the community gardening effort may call the church at 266-9877.

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