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WSU professor tills the soil for local food pantry

Date: 9/6/2011

Sept. 7, 2011

By Lori Szepelak


WESTFIELD — All Henry Wefing has to do is reference the movie, “Caddyshack,” and everyone immediately understands his one garden challenge — a pesky woodchuck.

Wefing, a professor of communication at Westfield State University, has been nurturing an organic vegetable garden behind the Horace Mann Center on campus for four years. His sole purpose is simple — help stock the shelves of the Westfield Food Pantry.

As the temperatures soared into the 90’s on a recent afternoon, Wefing kept his cool, noting he appreciates the university administration’s continued commitment to making land available for the garden, but is less appreciative of the appetite of the woodchuck that has dug a burrow in the plot for the past two years.

“I’ve chased him off but he returns for the greens,” Wefing said.

The Owl’s Garden, dug by hand, is approximately 80 feet by 35 feet, divided into four plots separated by mulched walking rows. Over time, the soil has improved with manure, compost, and organic fertilizer.

“The garden is grown without pesticides or chemical fertilizers,” he added.

The meticulous garden produces a variety of vegetables and herbs, with an emphasis on growing crops that will be used by the patrons of the food pantry.

Wefing explained the harvest begins in spring with asparagus and rhubarb, followed by radishes, a variety of lettuces, and braising greens including turnips, collards, kale, and Swiss chard.

The summer harvest includes tomatoes, beans, eggplant, peppers, squash, cucumbers, and zucchini. Also, one of the four subplots is typically reserved for potatoes. Herbs include mint, rosemary, parsley, chives, lemon balm, and basil.

During the summer, Wefing toils at least two hours daily in the garden, ensuring the plants receive the water and nutrients they need to prosper. At the height of the growing season, Wefing loads banana boxes chock-full of vegetables and herbs into his truck on Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays, and makes the trek to the food pantry.

Rebecca Hart, director of the Westfield Food Pantry, is appreciative of Wefing’s efforts.

“Henry Wefing’s garden is the only stable source of fresh produce available to our clients throughout the summer,” she said. “He personally delivers the food, which he has harvested that morning. The produce arrives carefully washed, packaged and labeled, which conveys a message of dignity to our clients.”

Hart noted that some of the vegetables are new to food pantry clients, such as kale, rutabaga, and turnips.

“Most folks are willing to try something new when it is presented so beautifully,” she said. “We are truly blessed to have Henry’s annual support during the growing season.”

Wefing is proud of the abundance of produce that the garden yields annually and looks forward to many more years of fruitful harvests.

“In these hard economic times, I’m glad the garden can help folks who need food,” he said.

The Owl’s Garden is a perfect example of how a small piece of land can be turned into a productive garden, Wefing added.


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