SEK-CAP grant helps garden grow

By ANNE KAZMIERCZAK
Register Reporter

By spring, Elm Creek Community Gardens will almost quadruple the number of plots it offers and double the area currently in use. The changes are courtesy of a $24,940.86 grant from the Southeast Kansas Community Action Program.
The grant is being distributed in two parts. Elm Creek received the first payment, $14,474.49, Monday morning.
Aaron McConnell, SEK-CAP coordinator, said the grant is the first distribution from $500,000 in government stimulus funds the agency will divide among 12 counties in southeast Kansas.
“A lot of people are wondering how stimulus funds are being used,” said Travis Allen, SEK-CAP Sector 1 Community Capacity Specialist. “This came out of that. People wonder what jobs are being created. It’s also funding a full-time garden coordinator and part-time bookkeeper.” John Richards is Elm Creek’s garden coordinator, and Gerry Uphoff is bookkeeper.
Because the money comes from the federal government, there are limits on what may and may not be done with the money. Representatives of the garden signed a contract delineating intended uses.
Primary among them is the garden expansion. Forty-four new 12-foot by 24-foot full-sized plots, plus 24, 40-inch by 48-inch container plots will be installed in the garden by spring. The container plots will be equally distributed between handicapped Iolans and SAFE BASE children. In addition, shade shelters with picnic benches and a memory garden honoring early ECCG participants Jeanie Larson and Vicki Lucas, both deceased, will be created with the funds.
The grant will also pay for the purchase of tools sized for the SAFE BASE and handicapped participants, pay for the installation of paths, the purchase of seeds, plants and top soil and afford seven additional hydrants to provide water to the expanded garden.
“Pretty much the only thing we couldn’t do was concrete,” Allen said of allowed expenditures of the funds.

THAT ELM Creek was awarded the funds — and is the first project fully funded through the stimulus money — was a convergence of priorities for both the gardeners and SEK-CAP.
“The first thing we did,” when it was learned SEK-CAP would administer the stimulus funds, McConnell said, “was send an e-mail to the 240 employees of SEK-CAP” seeking ideas for use of the grants.
A timely article in the Register about the potential fund source sparked interest of Carolyn McLean, who, with her husband Val, have donated the land for the community garden.
“I saw the article in the Register and I said to Val, ‘I’m calling first thing tomorrow morning,’” McLean said.
“This is one of the first projects a community gave us,” plus it was also identified by SEK-CAP employees as a priority idea, McConnell said.
Expanding Elm Creek Community Garden will allow plots being available for those who cannot afford to pay the normal garden fee, or are otherwise unable to grow food where they live.
“That was a good thing for us to approve, because SEK-CAP is trying to eliminate poverty,” Ellis explained.
New plots should be in place by the garden’s opening Feb. 15, Richards said.
ECCG will receive its second grant payment in March.