Good Neighbors Dig In

Community gardens are nourishing environments, places to cultivate food and friendships. The Madison Area Food Pantry Garden offers this and more: On just five one-acre gardens in Middleton and Fitchburg townships, volunteers help plant, weed and harvest 100,000 pounds of produce annually—all of which is donated to forty-seven local food pantries via Community Action Coalition and Second Harvest Foodbank. There are no water sources at the sites, which makes the rainfall-dependent yield even more impressive.

What this garden project has in abundance is the energy and resourcefulness of Emmett Schulte and Ken Witte, who have devoted their retirement to raising fresh, nutritious produce—a commodity often in low supply amid the nonperishable cans of soup and boxes of mac and cheese at food pantries—for some of the nearly 30,000 Dane County residents living below the poverty line.

Since 2000, three nights a week from May through October (and two mornings during the harvest), collards, peppers, muskmelons, okra and more are tended to by an ever-changing corps of volunteers: scout troops, homeschoolers, church groups, Middleton High School sociology students and others. Hershberger, Lacy, and Malmquist gardens bear the names of those who donated their land. And while this community effort is rooted locally, its reach is global: Donated seeds that won’t grow well here are sent to Native American communities, Mexico, East Timor and Sierra Leone.

The garden’s website,, lists each week’s schedule; no advance sign-up is required. “It takes about two minutes to give them instruction,” says Schulte. Then everyone digs in—ready, like the food pantry recipients, to reap the benefits of what they sow.

Laura Kearney

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