BELOIT - Fall might be in full swing, but the Community Sharing Garden in the Merrill Neighborhood is still going strong.
In its 11th year, the Merrill garden is bigger than ever thanks to the efforts of Community Action Community Service Specialist and Community Garden Coordinator Kaelyb Lokrantz and other volunteers.
Their work came at the right time as there has been an increase in participants since Save-A-Lot grocery store closed in June.
"Usage has doubled," Lokrantz said.
Lokrantz noted many of the Merrill neighborhood residents can't afford the other grocery stores in Beloit.
"It has made our already important mission of providing free and healthy food to the neighbors even more necessary. They are essentially in a food desert," Lokrantz said.
Since its formation 11 years ago, the garden has grown to three residential lots.
"We are thinking of expanding to a fourth lot," Lokrantz added.
With radishes, lettuce, spinach and other cold crops being added to the garden, the harvest is expected to continue throughout the fall.
Elderly residents are eligible to get their produce delivered.
Over the summer, Lokrantz said the garden offered strawberries, raspberries, broccoli, cucumbers, beets, eggplants, tomatoes, okra, squash, watermelon, pumpkins and more.
The garden also has been home to an apple tree, and volunteers planted a cherry tree and a pear tree this summer as well as adding a "three sisters" Native American garden with corn, squash and beans together in mounds. Garden workers also added informational signs, painted all the raised garden beds and adding outdoor lighting. Currently, an outdoor classroom is being built.
Those at the garden are also working on adding another mural by partnering with Beloit College student Hannah Oxford.
They are also growing some high-nitrogen cover crops to help regenerate the soil. This summer the garden hit a goal of growing 50% of the plants from seeds, and got registered as an official Monarch Butterfly waystation.
"Merrill garden made a commitment to provide milkweed for a habitat and food source and leave natural areas for monarchs," Lokrantz said.
Many helpers have contributed to the garden's success.
"We had a green house built by an Eagle Scout for his final project. That thing is a Godsend for me. I was able to get a lot of seeds started in March and we were able to get them in the garden," Lokrantz said.
Rotary Gardens in Janesville also makes donations to the garden.
The garden has three regular volunteers, others who pop in and out, resident volunteers as well as helpers representing various Beloit businesses.
Lokrantz said his favorite thing about the garden is seeing community members come in and getting the opportunity to teach them. Often times people have never seen some items, such as broccoli, growing in a garden.
Lokrantz is working his second year in his position. He started as a garden volunteer three years ago.