Compost closes circle at Food Bank garden party Friday

Friday's spring planting in the New Opportunities Community Garden was done by, clockwise from left, Beatrice Whipple of Perry, Perry Food Bank Coordinator Esmerelda Banales of Perry, Dallas County Public Health Department Americorp worker Josie Redman, Liam Whipple, 4, and Dave Oliveira of Perry.

Things are coming full circle at the Perry Food Bank’s Opportunities Garden, run in coordination with the New Opportunities Dallas County Family Development Center.

Green-thumbed volunteers gathered Friday afternoon to plant the garden’s second annual crop, and this year’s compost supply came in part from the garden’s own weeds that were mixed with Hy-Vee food waste in the store’s new recycling plan.

Larry Vodenik of Perry, recently honored by the Perry Historic Preservation Commission for his many years of service to the local community and its history, said the Hy-Vee waste is recycled into compost that in turn fertilizes the community garden at New Opportunities.

Vodenik and Dave Oliveira of Perry were among the garden’s original volunteers and they got help with Friday’s planting from Perry Food Bank Coordinator Esmerelda Banales, Dallas County Public Health Department Americorp worker Josie Redman, volunteer gardener Beatrice Whipple of Perry and 4-year-old Liam Whipple, who found the agronomy engrossing.

Vegetables grown in the garden are given to low-income and needy families from the local area, with some shoots and bulbs shared with local gardeners.

The Opportunities Garden started last year with an $1,125 grant from United Way. Local donors included Rainbow International, which bought the lumber and built the beds, Hulgan Plumbing and Heating Co., which supplied hoses for watering the beds, Hy-Vee, which donated seeds, and Karen Mertz of Perry, who bought a large quantity of Mulch Mart dirt.

“She is such a sweet lady,” former New Opportunities Director Karen Ventura said of Mertz. “She comes into the center quite often and says, ‘What do you need? What do you need?’ and then she’ll come back with shampoo, toothpaste and food. She is so kindhearted, like many of our volunteers and donors.”

Students from the Woodward Academy were instrumental in providing labor during last year’s growing season, but now volunteers are needed to keep things running — or growing — smoothly. Vodenik said help is needed with weeding and watering the garden, and volunteers can commit to as little as one hour a week.

Hy-Vee Inc. awarded a $1,000 One Step Grant to the Opportunities Garden this season.
Hy-Vee Inc. awarded a $1,000 One Step Grant to the Opportunities Garden this season.

Hy-Vee Inc. put a $1,000 One Step Garden grant toward the project this year and hung a banner to mark their involvement. New Opportunities manages the garden and the Perry-Area Food Pantry, which is run by a board of directors. Crossroads Church, which houses the New Opportunities offices, donated the land for the garden.

The New Opportunities Dallas County Family Development Center offers a wide variety of programs, including Head Start and Early Head Start, addiction prevention and treatment and other health services, WIC and food pantry, heating and weatherization services and many others. Many of their clients are elderly. Virtually all are low-income residents of Dallas County.

For more information or to volunteer in the garden, call 515-465-5185.


  1. The Hy-Vee One-Step Perry-Area Food Pantry Garden could use help weeding, watering and, later, harvesting. We are asking for people to donate ONE hour per week of their time. 100 percent of the produce grown will go to the Perry-Area Food Pantry. If you or a group you are part of can spare an hour a week, it would be a big help. Want to help? Contact New Opportunities at 515-465-5185.


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