Thursday, July 9, 2009

Friendship garden

ROCK VALLEY—Friends of the heart.

Amigos del corazon.

“That’s who we are,” said 67-year-old Bernie Maas of Rock Valley.

Bernie and his wife, Elly, are trying to make a difference in the Rock Valley community.

That’s why this spring, the two created Friends of the Heart, a “friendship” garden located in a lot east of Faith Reformed Church in Rock Valley.

The garden, which is divided into five 12-by-18-foot plots, allows space for 12 Hispanic and six other families in the community to plant and grow their vegetables of choice.

Among the produce being grown in the garden are beans, cucumbers, peppers, potatoes, pumpkins, radishes, tomatoes and watermelon

Those with plots in the garden provided their own seeds, and the Maases supply the water for them to nourish their plants as well as free space and buckets.

“There’s no cost to anybody to have this garden,” Bernie said. “It’s all free.”

The Maases, who have a multitude of Hispanic friends in Rock Valley, wanted to diminish any fences or walls that had been established between races within the community.

“Why not try to be a little more proactive and accept the fact that they’re here and try to build roads of communication and relationships? That’s basically what has to be done in order to keep the fences down,” Bernie said. “As a result, the Hispanic community can take ownership in a community and not be ostracized. That’s our responsibility, not theirs, to create that concept with the situation.”

The Maases wanted to take responsibility, but they wanted to do it through Christianity.

“We have sent out missionaries all over the world, now the Lord has sent a whole new group of people to this country, and he’s going to see what we’re going to do,” Bernie said. “We should all be evangelists, missionaries or disciples and show them what Christianity really is all about.”

The Maases initially wanted to create a gathering place for both Hispanic and other community members to gather for various programs, English as a Second Language classes, speakers, banquets, movies and Bible stories, to be used as tools for the two races to relate to one another.

But, during the spring, Bernie attended a conference, where he heard about “friendship” gardens within communities.

And, although he said Friends of the Heart is not a community garden, nor is it affiliated with any particular church within the community, he thought it was the perfect idea.

“There is nothing negative. It is all positive. They’re all accepting that property, and I thought that was the most natural tool to be able to relate to one another,” Bernie said. “It’s something they can all appreciate. The garden was the tool to get that concept going.”

While Bernie said some of the Hispanic families involved have had previous gardening experience, others came from small mining towns in Mexico, where the dirt was not sufficient enough to grow anything.

No matter, all of the families involved have taken ownership and have come together for one similar purpose.

“The concept really came from me, but it doesn’t really make any difference,” Bernie said. “We’re all doing it together.”

While this is the first year for the garden, those involved are learning what works and what doesn’t as they go.

The gardeners work together 7-9 p.m. each Wednesday.

“That’s our night,” Bernie said. “It’s our time.”

After the gardening season is over, the Maases would like to continue the relationship by finding a building or a church within the community where the group can meet on Wednesday nights to relate to one another.

“It’s just so much fun to see all these families together, doing things,” Bernie said.

This article appeared in the June 6, 2009 edition of The N'West Iowa REVIEW.

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