Planting Seeds of Success

Pro Deo Community Garden engages teens in the community

That next jar of salsa you enjoy might just be more local than you imagined.

The teens at Pro Deo Youth Center have been putting their green thumbs to work growing fruits, vegetables and even flowers at their new Community Garden, located just north of the center near St. Matthew Lutheran Church at Chipman and Independence in Lee’s Summit.

Pro Deo Director Elaine Metcalf said the initial garden idea grew out of Pro Deo’s review of activities available to the youth.

“We needed more activities to do outside and more varieties of activities to have outdoors,” she said. “In my research, gardening was one of those things that came up.”

Metcalf immediately got to work with Lee’s Summit’s Morning Rotary Club - including Dave and Cutter Gale and John Wisnewski - as well as their neighbors at St. Matthew’s. Rotary went on to write a global grant to help fund the greenhouse and 11 raised beds, the fencing, signage, and all the supplies.

“There was a lot of sweat equity on the part of many Rotarians and multiple clubs to make that happen,” Metcalf said.

The gardening officially began in 2020 and took off in 2021 and 2022.

“Few kids today are given the opportunity to eat produce that they personally planted, nurtured and harvested from the ground,” said Cutter Gale, membership chair of the Sunrise/Sunset Rotary Club. “Two years ago the team at Pro Deo … asked for help creating an environment where kids could have fun getting their hands dirty.”

Up stepped the Lee’s Summit Rotary clubs, Cutter said, with the grant and on-the-ground work to get the garden started.

The result is a veritable banquet of offerings: peppers, onions, strawberries, tomatoes, carrots, flowers and an ‘edible fence line’ of blackberries.

“Their success is growing,” Cutter noted. “This season, the kids ‘put-up’ 28 pints of their special ‘Salsa-by-Design’ and are also producing sweet cucumber relish.”

The ‘Seed Crew’ even designed a T-shirt while helping to harvest, joining community volunteers who also help maintain the garden

“It truly is a community garden in that respect,” Metcalf said.

A grant also allowed them to hire a Learning Gardening Specialist, Janie Joling, to help with planting and fertilizing.

“She loves to hear their ideas,” Metcalf said. “One of the teens mentioned her grandmother had double petunias, so we researched it and found them to plant in the garden. (Board members) Angela Turner and Jan Nelson have been instrumental, too, in giving us advice, and Angela teaches the teens how to make flower arrangements.”

Pro Deo recently partnered with Meals on Wheels to make 110 bouquets to deliver to those receiving food. 

“We’re always encouraging ways to take what we’re doing in the garden and give back to the community,” Metcalf said.

The kids are even trying their hand at corn.

“I don’t know what next year will bring, but we’re keeping the teens and community members engaged to keep it going. It truly is a great project.”

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