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Garden unites LeTourneau students, South Longview

By Meredith Shamburger
April 25, 2017 at 11:46 p.m.

LeTourneau University student Martha Jeske, center, picks snow peas with the children of Wesley-McCabe United Methodist Church's Terrific Tuesdays program Tuesday  at the university's community garden.

The first vegetables to be harvested Tuesday from LeTourneau University's new community garden were some radishes, a lot of snow peas and a few heads of lettuce — then came figuring out what to do with all of it.

The student gardeners decided they would wrap up the produce, go to some surrounding streets around campus and meet their neighbors.

"We just went over the fence across into the neighborhood and walked around and gave them away to people," LeTourneau senior Martha Jeske said. "It was really fun to meet some of the couples who live back there and some of the families."

Jeske, with the help of a $5,000 grant from the Jenzabar Foundation, planted the garden at the south end of the LeTourneau University campus. Working with student volunteers and two of her professors, Jeske is bringing alive her vision of a garden that will provide relaxation for her peers, education for younger students and better relationships with the surrounding Longview community.

The garden is an idea that Jeske and some of her professors have mulled since she started at LeTourneau. Jeske's family owns about 20 acres of land outside of Tyler, and she said about a half-acre of that is used for gardening, so she is familiar with the process. But it was the grant opportunity that put Jeske's idea into action.

She wrote the grant proposal and found she had received funding this past spring. The goal was to get Longview children to learn about gardening, with Jeske pulling in student groups from the Boys & Girls Club and Wesley-McCabe United Methodist Church's Terrific Tuesdays program.

Work on the garden, christened the "Scrum Gardens," began in the fall.

The name comes from the site's proximity to the rugby field — a scrum is a formation used in rugby. Jeske has a lot of friends who play the sport, and she said they're always talking about practice.

Rugby and gardening have something in common: They both get you dirty.

"The main idea behind this is that it's a good place to get dirty and sweaty and grimy," she said.

Workdays this spring helped get plants into the ground and ready for picking.

The children who have visited the garden have helped make the work go by fast, Jeske said.

"We planted three rows of eggplant and peppers and tomatoes in about 30 minutes four weeks ago and ... we did get our hands dirty, and we did sweat a little bit, but it wasn't the laborious work of like four hours that it would have been like by myself or two hours if I'd had a friend," she said. "So it's been fun."

Jeske and her LeTourneau volunteers give their younger counterparts the chance to work in the garden — but they're also able to run around and play in the surrounding fields that make up the vacant south end of campus. She said she's enjoyed seeing the students interact with each other and with the bugs, sweat and grime that come with gardening.

"We had some girls out here four weeks ago, and they were complaining and shrieking about the bugs," Jeske said. "They were having fun."

Tabitha DeBoer, director of the Terrific Tuesdays program, brought several dozen of her students to the garden Tuesday. The group helped with the harvest, played games and made s'mores. DeBoer said the garden has become a highlight for her group.

"They love it, and they love to play," she said. "They love the interaction with the (LeTourneau) students a lot, because they're with an older crowd most of the time, so the student interaction is awesome for them."

LeTourneau sophomore LeAnne Gross agreed. She first started volunteering with the garden this semester and said it's been great interacting with the young students.

"It's a lot of fun," Gross said. "I love getting through to kids."

Jeske can rattle off the name of every vegetable that's been planted at the site, from tiny cucumbers to sweet potatoes and mint. They're all planted in neat rows below several inches of wood chips. A colorful trellis and gardening shed stand beside the garden, providing decoration and storage for tools.

One of the shed's exterior walls has been covered with chalkboard paint so Jeske and her volunteers can list what is being grown.

Jeske said they're not looking to expand the garden into a full-fledged operation.

"I really love the idea of this being a place for us students who have so many responsibilities and so many obligations that we already take care of, a place where we can forget about those for a little bit and invest ourselves in something that's physical work instead of as much mental work as we usually have," she said.

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