FraserJuly 30, 2012
Fraser seniors find peace, community in garden
By Nico Rubello
C & G Staff Writer
FRASER — Most days, for an hour or two, you’ll find a group of Fraser seniors out in their own garden of Eden.
Actually, it’s a 45-foot-by-45-foot vegetable garden behind the Fraser Woods senior apartment complex.
But it’s where Dolores Kurz, a Fraser Woods resident, said she finds peace of mind nonetheless. Alone and at peace, her mind focuses on gardening, like a form of meditation.
“It’s holistic in nature, really,” said Kurz, one of a handful of residents who actively tend the garden. “I really enjoy what I’m doing.”
Wooden planks along the garden’s edges wall off 10 rows of green vegetables sprouting up. Its selection is equally rich: three kinds of peppers, three kinds of tomatoes, two kinds of squash, two kinds of cucumbers, cabbage, lettuce, carrots, peas, beans, broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, onions, beets and zucchini.
“You name it; we have it,” Kurz said.
The produce grown there goes back to the residents of the government-subsidized apartment complex, with wheelchair-bound seniors taking precedence because of their difficulty in getting out.
“I went personally to a lot of the apartments and gave them food, like zucchini and cucumbers, some tomatoes,” Kurz added.
In July 2011, a former apartment complex manager decided to create the garden, and a group of residents pitched in. Before it was a garden, the land was a patch of grass behind the complex that flooded easily when it rained.
Still, the soil was ideally fertile, soil tests later confirmed. So much so that they have never needed fertilizer. In fact, no weed killers or chemicals of any kind have been used to date.
“(The garden) is easy to get to. You don’t have to walk very far,” Kurz said. “We’re not getting as much sun as we’d like because of the trees, but for what we’re getting, we’re doing quite well. The yield has been pretty good.”
The gardeners are quick to tell you that the garden has benefitted from donations by a few businesses and community groups, including a $500 donation by the Fraser Lions Club for stakes, water sprinklers and extra plants. Three C’s Landscaping also donated a truckload of mulch.
But as much as the garden has been a community effort, the number of active helpers has dwindled to a small band of regulars, including June Brancik and Marilyn Dietrich. Apartment groundskeeper Bernard Peterson is instrumental in helping to keep up the garden, Kurz said. There’s also a “mystery lady” who weeds anonymously, Kurz said.
Then there are the “master gardeners” who’ve donated countless volunteer hours helping the seniors get the garden in shape this year. Master gardeners are accredited through a Michigan State University training program.
“I was really surprised by how large it was,” said Jeff Meirow, a Fraser resident and master gardener who has been helping the Fraser Woods residents since this spring. “I thought they were gong to have a little 10-by-20-foot garden.”
Meirow also helped secure the donations and lay out the design of the garden.
“It’d be nice to have a garden to help keep me busy once I retire. It’s a lot of work though,” he said.
“A lot of people, they’re housebound or they’re too proud to go to food banks and ask for help. This will take a little less embarrassment if they’re growing it on their own.”
But as much as it helps those within the apartment complex, for Kurz, the hobby goes beyond mere enjoyment. That’s because, while she doesn’t have Parkinson’s disease, she does have Parkinsonian symptoms, like shaking and stiffness in her hands.
She’s using everything she can to delay the onset of the symptoms, and that includes gardening, she said. The activity helps keep her keep her hands nimble.
“You have to keep your mind busy to keep sickness from taking over your life,” she said. “I find solace, peace, joy. I’m benefitting from this more than anybody else.”
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