HOMELAKE— In its second year of growth the garden at Veterans Community Living Center at Homelake is flourishing with fruits, vegetables, and flowers. Mark Stanfill, who lives at Homelake and is a Navy aviation veteran, started the garden a couple of years ago.
Stanfill has a great love of gardening and has tried to garden as many times as he could throughout his life. “But this is the best success I’ve had,” he said of this year’s garden.
The huge garden sits just feet away from the peaceful Homelake cemetery. When they originally started the garden the dirt that was there was from the graves that had been dug in the cemetery. “I think that gives it a kind of connection,” said Stanfill, “It’s odd too; we haven’t had any animals ever bother this garden.”
Their garden, which Stanfill says is really more like farming because of its size, has a variety of fresh produce for the residents at Homelake to enjoy. They have pumpkins, swiss chard, watermelons and much more. In addition to their regular vegetables, they grow lots of unique plants like yellow pear tomatoes, dinosaur kale, and Japanese cucumbers which can sometimes grow as long as two feet! They also have beautiful hollyhocks and the towering sunflowers, which act like a wind break to protect the garden.
“I started this garden so we could get fresh produce to the people here at Homelake,” said Stanfill, “But I faced the challenge of getting it into the kitchen, so I had to get the water tested and meet qualifications. We are now certified by the Farmer Veteran Coalition as part of an operation called, ‘Homegrown by Heroes.’ We are certified to sell our produce at farmers markets and institutions like Homelake as well as supermarkets if we choose to.”
But fresh produce wasn’t the only reason Stanfill wanted to start the garden. “I wanted to get people at Homelake excited about this and get them out of their cottages helping in the garden and it’s worked in many cases. I’ve had a lot of help out here. I haven’t done this alone,” said Stanfill.
Cindy Boyd is one of those helpers and she helped Stanfill to start the garden when he began. She weeds the garden faithfully. John Bales, who is 89, sowed all the seeds earlier this year for Stanfill while he was in the hospital. Ninety-four-year-old Jim Jones also helped by planting a patch of beautiful gladiolus. Local artist Reda Roberts helped them with the logo design for their garden, and Sue Plane, Mary Carhart and many others have helped care for the garden.
“I’ve always loved gardening. I wish I had done this rather than be an electrician all my life,” said Stanfill. He approaches his gardening very scientifically and is always learning more about growing plants. Next year he hopes to add a greenhouse to the gardening operation.
They are excited about the Summerfest happening Sept. 14 for the residents at Homelake. There will be live music, prizes, a BBQ and much more for the veterans and staff at Homelake. Fresh corn on the cob from the garden will also be served.