When Juli Bokenkamp had to undergo cancer treatment three years ago, she worried that she would have to give up something she loved — managing Meridian’s community garden.

What she discovered, though, is that the garden kept her going.

“(It) encouraged me to find other alternatives for healing and taking care of myself,” Bokenkamp told the Meridian Press in an email.

She’s now in her fifth year of running the garden, which she calls a “hidden nugget” on the southeast corner of Kleiner Park.

“We have just under an acre and we pretty much grow everything,” Bokenkamp said. “Each year we add some new varieties to try.”

The group of volunteers who work the garden are called the Meridian Co-op Gardeners, and they have a Facebook page by the same name.

The garden feeds the 30 families in the co-op, with enough produce left over for the Meridian Food Bank. The co-op donated more than 6,000 pounds of food last year, Bokenkamp said.

“My passion is feeding people healthy food and taking care of our health using food,” she said.

The families put in at least three to four hours of work in the garden a week, with group work times scheduled for Wednesday evenings and Saturday mornings.

People passing by often pause with interest, Bokenkamp said. The co-op has already started a waiting list for next year.

The gardeners enjoy a chance to unplug from technology and feel like they’re part of something bigger, Bokenkamp said.

COLLABORATION

The garden is a cooperative effort involving families, local businesses, the city of Meridian, church pantries and the Meridian Food Bank, according to the Meridian Co-op Gardeners 2016 report.

It’s also where people can fulfill court-ordered volunteer hours through the Ada County Sheriff’s Office alternative sentencing program.

“It’s a place of redemption, and maybe even learning a new life skill along with knowledge of how fresh food can be grown,” the report said. “Many have said that working in the garden is their favorite place to put in their required hours.”

Last year, the alternative sentencing detail worked one day a month at the garden from May to October.

“They were instrumental in helping to take down the garden in October,” the report said.

GARDEN PROGRAMS

The Meridian Co-op Gardeners have launched several creative initiatives, including:

  • The Lil’ Gardeners program, which offers classes to children in the co-op about garden rules, plants, insects, weeding, harvesting and so on.
  • Flower delivery from the garden to assisted living facilities around the Meridian area.
  • Educational garden demonstrations, such as how to make sauerkraut using the cabbage in the garden, making avocado mayo, how to use the garden produce to make backpacking meals, and how to make freezer jam.

The garden recently hosted its first “Breakfast at the Garden,” Bokenkamp said. Two members offered to cook breakfast before a Saturday workday, “allowing us to relax, spend time and catch up with other gardeners,” she said.

Some of the gardeners have been in the co-op for three to five years together. They chat on the phone, hike together, have lunch and attend events, Bokenkamp said.

“My goal has always been to create community and to educate others about gardening,” she said. “The garden is the perfect place to do both.”

As far as her health goes, Bokenkamp said she's doing fine now.

"Still building up my stamina," she said, "but the garden keeps me going."

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