On any given day, people are taking their share of produce from Sauk Centre’s Community Garden.

“We come down here at least once a week,” Lois Ophoven said. “Just about every week we run into somebody else down here. We talk about gardening, where people are from, and get to know them.”

Lois and her husband, Allen, were picking fresh tomatoes and cucumbers Aug. 28.

The garden, located near the city’s conservation park along the Sauk River, was established last year. Over the season, the plot has more than doubled in size, and now consumes an 80- by 200-foot area. The garden offers a variety of produce for community members to enjoy, including zucchini, tomatoes, peppers, beets, green beans, corn, peas, radishes, kale and beds of herbs.

“From last year, we planted more zucchini, tomatoes, cucumbers … things people wanted,” said Gwen Kranz, community garden committee member.

While most of the produce is available for the entire community, certain raised beds and plots are either rented or designated for children. About one-third of the garden is for the area Girl Scouts and youth to be used as a learning tool.

“Kids helped us plant this area of the garden and they’ve maintained it throughout the summer,” Kranz said. 

There are 13 plots rented for community members to grow their own produce and maintain the plots as they see fit. The remaining area in the garden is scattered with produce for the general public. 

“Those vegetables are for anyone, neighbors, families, people in the community,” Kranz said. 

The Ophovens began using the garden last year. 

“We have a small garden behind our house, but we can’t grow any of the larger crops like the melons, squash and stuff,” Lois said. “We come here because of the variety.”

Weekly, the couple picks fresh tomatoes and cucumbers for their salads. 

Allen’s favorite produce are the tomatoes. 

“We cook them down on the stove and make tomato juice,” he said. “We’ll drink that all year long.” 

Lois intends to make salsa with the tomatoes and refrigerator pickles with the cucumbers. 

“We started coming in July when things started ripening,” Lois said. 

Allen agreed. 

“It’s good when it’s fresh now, eating those fresh greens,” Allen said. “You can’t beat it. We eat as much as we can.”

For Al Poepping, who frequents the garden almost daily, he prefers to enjoy the fresh produce immediately.

“I’ve been down fishing for a few hours,” he said the afternoon of Aug. 28. “I like being able to pick something off the vine and eat it.”

When Kranz hears of community members spending time in the garden and using the produce, she is elated. 

“My favorite thing to do is go down there and see a new person in the garden,” Kranz said. “This year, we added a bench for people to sit at and spend time in the garden. It’s really become a peaceful, safe place for people to be there and be happy.”

But just as the community reaps the benefits of the garden, so does the community contribute to its prosperity. 

Throughout the growing season, the committee uses Facebook to notify community members when produce is ripe, and to also find people to help maintain the garden. Every week, there is one volunteer designated to look over the garden – making sure it’s watered and weeded as needed. 

“There are a lot of people who come here daily for their exercise; they’re weeding, watering and walking through the garden,” Kranz said. “And while there’s always one person in charge, everybody offers to help … the whole community has been very supportive.”

Kranz and the garden committee members use their online presence to not only find volunteers to help maintain the plot, but to also keep the community informed. Often, they will post about the progress of the garden and when produce is ready to pick. 

Lois and Allen like that transparency.

“I was a farm girl, born and raised,” Lois said. “I know how important it is to use the natural product. Here, they don’t use any sprays or anything, which I think is great. We don’t use any sprays in our garden at home either.”

As the community garden nears the end of its second season, the committee is pleased with its progress. 

“When we first came up with this idea, we had some goals and now those goals have been met,” Kranz said. “In such a short time, we’ve met our expectations and now we can focus on ways to improve.”

Next season, Kranz hopes to make better use of the garden space.