By Celine Klosterman
WEST LIBERTY — A trained chef and retired horticulturist is combining two of his main interests to unite and feed people through community gardening.
Steve Hinkhouse, who was confirmed at St. Joseph Church in West Liberty this Easter, is offering to provide seeds, gardening supplies and guidance to any area resident willing to grow vegetables or fruits at home to share. He anticipates much produce going to the food pantry at First Church United and Simpson Memorial Home, a nursing home; as well as to growers’ family and friends. Father Dennis Martin, St. Joseph’s pastor, said he’d like to give some food to people in need who seek help from the parish.
“I see this as a community building effort,” Fr. Martin said of the gardening project. Hinkhouse, who is trying to get people of various ethnicities involved, likened it to fusion cuisine, which combines elements of multiple culinary traditions.
Co-coordinators Hinkhouse and Bill Koellner and five other individuals already are taking part in the project. West Liberty Foods, a poultry processing plant, has started a garden and is encouraging employees to grow produce as well.
While sharing is the gardening project’s focus, growers aren’t expected to give their entire crop away. “We also want to encourage people to take responsibility for growing some of their own food for personal consumption,” said Hinkhouse, 67. “Whatever’s realistic for you.”
Fr. Martin noted gardening may offer an opportunity to obtain healthy food economically during a recession. This summer, Hinkhouse anticipates holding workshops in West Liberty on making homemade sauces and freezing vegetables.
“Our ultimate goal is to get families together at least once a week to eat,” he said. “We’re struggling in the church to get families as tight as the Father intended us to be. This isn’t a religious activity, but it’s doing the will of God.”
Faith was largely why Hinkhouse decided a year ago to promote community gardening. “I was very sick and spent several months in a nursing home. I started thinking, I’m going to live through this, and there’s a reason. I’m a spiritual man.” When he recovered, he vowed, he’d teach others some of what he learned during 2 ½ years in culinary school and 35 years growing shrubs, evergreens and other woody plants for sale.
He made contact with several fellow gardeners who are now involved in community gardening. About a month ago, he began work on a pilot project at the restored railroad depot in West Liberty, where about 100 square feet of onions, beans, herbs and other plants are growing. Also at the site is a potato mat that allows gardeners to grow potatoes using straw rather than dirt. That method eliminates digging.
Educational workshops will be held regularly at the site to show the garden’s progress to the community, Hinkhouse said. On April 24, St. Joseph confirmation students will clean up the site as a service project in connection with Earth Day, which officially is commemorated April 22.
To get involved with community gardening, call Hinkhouse at (319) 627-4550.