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Column: A new face at the garden

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Josh Usadel at the garden.

Last week I stopped by the Garfield Park Community Garden to show my parents what I’ve been up to and the progress that has been made since last year. To my surprise, there was a man working in one of the beds that I’d never seen before. Either we had a very enthusiastic neighbor who couldn’t wait to get their hands in the soil or we had a new volunteer.

Josh Usadel, 32, is volunteering at the garden, assisting in digging and planting new garden beds in between his job and putting his kid down to nap at home with his wife.

Usadel said he took the Michigan State University Master Gardener Program last fall. One of the requirements is to complete 40 hours of volunteer work.

“I was looking for volunteer opportunities and I happened to see the flyers for the garden at Alger Hardware and Ken’s Fruit Market,” Usadel said.

Josh weeding a garden bed.
Josh weeding a garden bed. Matt Smith

Having a new face at the garden makes it feel more a part of the community.

“The first couple of times (working in the garden) I met a few of the neighbors, (and) the garden and neighborhood felt more familiar,” Usadel said. “It’s kinda fun to knock on someone’s’ door and say, do you want some veggies?”

Usadel previously worked at several West Michigan farms. He now works at the Downtown Market Greenhouse, where he developed an interest in gardening. He went on to enroll in the Master Gardener course through the Michigan State University Extension Program to learn more.

“I grew up in Jenison, where it used to be farms and it’s (now) developed into homes,” Usadel said. “A couple years after college I got a professional CSA share.”

CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. Many small farms offer these programs where people sign up at the beginning of the growing season to receive weekly boxes of fresh produce from the farm.

“We went to pick up the veggies (and) the farmworkers were the happiest people I’ve ever seen,” Usadel said. “I was between jobs and thought if they’re having that much fun farming, I’ve gotta try that next year.”

At the community garden, the bulk of the vegetables produced so far have been handed out to neighbors and the recovery center located across the street.

“I ran my own farm for a summer called Soil Power Farm,” Usadel said. “I didn’t take a lot of science in college, so the Master Gardener class (is) a great way to fill the gaps in your science knowledge. You might know how to grow things but not know the science behind it.”

Josh attended classes at Grand Rapids Community College in the summer of 2003.

Usadel encouraged college students to get involved with the Downtown Market where there are employment opportunities and internships available. Visit the Downtown Market website to get involved. 

“I want to figure out a way to get community college students involved,” Usadel said. “Check the market website to get involved.”

Josh digging a garden bed.
Josh digging a garden bed. Matt Smith
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