Payson’s Community Garden turned out its first batch of crops this season Tuesday, providing needed fresh produce to local food banks.
Organizers say the inaugural garden has sprouted nicely, fulfilling its mission to help feed the hungry and bring the community together. Along the way, dozens of new friendships have developed and at least one family reunited.
It had been years since Lois Grumbo says she had seen her daughter-in-law, much less met her two grandchildren. Animosity had driven a wedge in the family, cutting contact off, Grumbo said.
Then one afternoon as Grumbo broke up the ground in her plot at the garden, a woman approached and asked if she could help.
Grumbo said she knew right away it was her daughter-in-law, but didn’t want to reveal her identity.
“So just as a friend, not knowing who I was, we started working together and then the boy (Grumbo’s grandson) came over and started picking rocks and giving us lectures on growing carrots and rocks together,” she said.
Soon two hours had passed, Grumbo’s husband (Richard) had arrived, and the whole group was tilling the ground.
“I knew who they were, but we didn’t exchange names,” she said.
Later that night, Richard commented that the woman had looked a lot like his estranged daughter.
“I told him she should, because it is your daughter,” she said. “He said, ‘I guess I have never seen her with a hat, I didn’t even think about it being her.’”
A few days later, the Grumbos returned to the garden off Tyler Parkway and saw the family tending their plot again.
This time, Richard went up to his daughter and said they should be talking.
“And now they are talking,” she said.
Tending their plots just a few dozen feet apart has helped heal decades of pain, said Grumbo, who finally met her two grandchildren — bringing her tally of grandchildren to 39.
Garden organizer Roger Kreimeyer said he never thought when he dreamed up opening a community garden it would also act as family therapy.
But it has — reuniting friends, fostering camaraderie and even giving people hope.
Mayor Kenny Evans, who has his own area in the 90-plot garden, said the garden has not only turned a blighted piece of ground into something beautiful, it has renewed spirits.
“It helps people understand that in these troubled and uncertain times there are some basic principles that cannot only help us feel confident in our lives, but give us a sense of security that we can’t get in any other way,” he said. “There is something about dirt on your hands and picking your own vegetable that gives you a sense of peace that the world is going to be OK.”
Grumbo agreed, saying the garden has brought everyone together, fostering “just a neat spirit.”
Just a few months ago, the land where the garden sits was just an empty plot of dirt, tucked between a church and seniors’ apartments.
Today, rows and rows of budding plants crowd the plots — from corn, lettuce and bok choy to pumpkins. More than a hundred people are working in the garden, tending to their plots on and off during the week. For many, it is a way to have a garden for the first time.
Grumbo says her husband had never enjoyed gardening, but now that they have a plot in Payson’s Community Garden he enjoys it so much he started a garden at home. And is even eating vegetables.
Gardeners have agreed to donate a quarter of everything they grow to area food banks.
On Tuesday, Kreimeyer brought St. Vincent de Paul Food Bank of Payson half a dozen bags of lettuce and squash — the first of many such shipments.
Kreimeyer hopes to drop off produce at St. Vincent at least two times a week, increasing shipments as crops come in.
St. Vincent rarely hands out fresh produce due to the cost. That means most of the needy live off a canned diet.
Evans said he wished he could have contributed more to Tuesday’s shipment, but ravens had ravished his plot.
Evans, the former president of the Arizona Farm Bureau Federation and farmer of 12,000 acres, said he hasn’t tended a garden in years.
He did try to start one when he moved to Payson with a truckload of soil from his Yuma farm, but he had trouble keeping wildlife away.
“The crows, the squirrels, elk and deer they all loved me,” he said. “And they flew all the way across town to attack my garden — and mine only — over here. “I mean look at how many they had to pick from and they picked mine.” Evans said pointing out at the rows of vegetables.
While not the most prolific grower thus far, Kreimeyer said Evans has been instrumental in starting Payson’s Community Garden, helping secure water and donations.
More than 30 businesses or organizations donated supplies or labor to start the garden.
An Eagle Scout candidate has planted a pumpkin patch in one-half of the garden and another man has added a hydroponic garden. Kreimeyer hopes to open a pumpkin patch in October.
There are still a dozen garden plots available.
For more information, call (928) 468-1365.