A ‘growing’ passion

Aging doesn’t always mean quitting doing what you love, even if what you love takes a lot of energy, like gardening and farming. Both farming and gardening sometimes are grueling activities that require a lot of work, especially in the middle of the summer months. But that doesn’t stop a few passionate folks at the Meadows of Divine Providence assisted living facility in Montoursville.

A quiet place nestled in a beautiful, quaint area of Central Pennsylvania, the Meadows is a retirement home; one of the best, in fact, according to Robert “Bob” Russell, resident and mastermind behind the extensive garden that now resides on the Meadows’ grounds.

The idea for the larger-sized garden came last summer, after the success of a smaller raised garden.

“Well, Bob Russell wanted more; he’s an old farmer,” Donald Hotchkiss said. Hotchkiss works maintenance at the Meadows and has helped with the garden, along with Sharon DeWalt, since it started. At 87 years old, Russell feels that it’s important to keep moving.

“He went to the office and asked, ‘what about doing a big garden?’ – so he staked it out, and now, it has really taken off,” Hotchkiss said.

“When you sit and look at the walls 24/7, it gets monotonous; it’s [the garden] just something to do,” Russell said.

Two dump-truck loads of manure and a lot of hard work later, the garden is lavish and ripe with vegetable life of all sorts.

This includes corn, pumpkins, peas, lettuce, radishes, squash, melons, pole beans, peppers, onions, potatoes, cabbage, cantaloupe, watermelon, string beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, turnips and even a more nontraditional garden vegetable called kohlrabi. Russell said kohlrabi tastes like cabbage hearts.

The garden is so tightly packed that they have the melons, pole beans and lima beans growing in between the corn stalks, which are now very tall. The pole beans and lima beans can simply grow up the corn stalks. With such a large amount of produce, it certainly doesn’t go to waste.

“What’s nice is that it’s used here in the kitchen,” Hotchkiss said.

Judy Shoemaker, another resident at the Meadows, is Russell’s partner-in-crime in helping with the garden. She is a retired registered nurse and used to farm for the fun of it when she lived in the Benton area. Now she uses her farming and gardening skills at the Meadows. Russell tends to the garden during the morning hours and she takes care of it during the evening.

“I bring it in at night and they cook it up here in the kitchen,” Shoemaker said.

Russell, like a true old-fashioned farmer, is very modest in all of his work but takes humble pride in the fact that the vegetables grown help feed the residents and consequently even save the Meadows a bit of money.

“I feel that I’m doing something to help somebody else,” he said.

Born and raised on a farm, he sees no end to doing what he loves in the near future.

“Farming is something you never forget. ‘Course when I started we had horses and no tractors,” Russell said. He grew up in Elimsport, “over the mountain” from Williamsport, he said.

Still, they tend to the garden by hand without any “fancy” gardening equipment. Russell offered a bit of blunt and helpful gardening advice.

“You gotta work at it! You can’t just plant it and forget it or it won’t work,” he said, with conviction.

“We put a lot of work into getting the garden ready. It [the ground] hadn’t been touched in 18 to 20 years; we had to feed it a little and it turned out good. Yeah, we’re pretty proud of it,” he said.