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Land Offered For City Gardeners

August 7, 2000

NORFOLK, Neb. (AP) _ They provide the land and the well water; all you need is a packet of seeds and a desire to work in the mud.

Continuing a tradition this summer, Beverly and Chuck Henkel have been giving some city dwellers the opportunity to grow gardens at their farm northwest of Norfolk.

With permission, a family can get a small plot of land and plant anything from corn to broccoli.

Beverly Henkel said they do it to help ease the financial burden on young families. Six families are tending plots on the farm this year.

Chuck Henkel, a retired orthopedic surgeon, said he enjoys giving others the opportunity to work outside and produce their own food. ``It’s a pretty picture when you have three generations working at the same time,″ he said.

The Henkels have provided at least two family gardens every year since 1976, when they moved to the Norfolk area.

They got the idea when they lived during the early 1970s in Burlington, Vt., where the University of Vermont and a convent gave plots to gardeners who had no land of their own.

For the most part, Mrs. Henkel said, families plant gardens at the farm to save money on food. They are encouraged to give at least 10 percent of their produce to other families in financial need, Henkel said.

The gardeners work out the size and location of their plots on their own. Gardeners can build trellises and markers with wood found on the farm. They are not allowed to use chemical fertilizers or insecticides.

The no-chemical rule often is difficult for people to understand, Mrs. Henkel said, because they are used to dumping fertilizer on everything. But she said organically grown vegetables are healthier for people and for the land.

The lush, green garden plots are weedy but doing well. Most of the gardeners work full-time jobs, so they do not have much spare time for tending to their plots.

This summer, the Henkel garden holds tomatoes, broccoli, green peppers, green beans, melons, corn, potatoes and tomatios _ a green tomato from Mexico that grows inside a husk.

Some families work the land with gardening hoes, while others use gas-powered tillers. The cost for the Henkels is limited; they need only pay for the electricity used by the water well pump.

The Henkels have their own garden, too, but they focus on producing grass-fed chickens, turkeys, hogs and cattle. They sell all their livestock, which is free from antibiotics, directly to consumers and have it processed by a local producer.

For Mrs. Henkel, the most rewarding part is watching children play in the garden and harvest green beans with their parents.

``That’s fun to see,″ she said.

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