A growing community
CARBONDALE – Rusty Burtard is one of those people who leaves you smiling.She’s a little ornery, a tad feisty and more grounded than the soil beneath her feet. On this day, Rusty was showing no mercy on a patch of weeds in the Carbondale Community Garden.She hates weeds, but most gardeners do.Her soiled gloves and smile make for the perfect portrait of a community garden gardener.
“If it wasn’t fun I wouldn’t be out here,” Rusty says, giving the weeds a short reprieve from their fate.She’s been part of the community garden for eight years. This summer she turns 80, and she’s planning on having lots of garden goodies for herself and her family.Radishes, onions, green beans, spinach and tomatoes. It’s the tomatoes that are the most special.Rusty loves tomatoes.
This year, Rusty is giving yellow tomatoes a try.Less acid and fewer seeds, she explains.The shorter growing season makes it tough to grow tomatoes, but Rusty is determined. “Gardeners are optimists,” she says with a laugh.The Carbondale Community Garden, located at the corner of Hendrick and Hollow drives, has 24 plots. Here, people can rent a sliver of Earth to grow vegetables, fruits, herbs and flowers. Pretty much the only rule is that it’s an organic garden – no chemicals or pesticides.A big pile of real fertilizer is available to the gardeners.Rusty and some of the other gardeners estimate they spend 5-6 hours a week toiling in the soil.Water is furnished by the town from the irrigation ditch next to the garden.Rusty says there’s no competition among the green thumbers. There are several tidy plots with an impressive neatness to them.For Rusty, gardening is fun, you know – or she wouldn’t be out there – but it’s not easy. Growing tomatoes is hard work.
Plucking that plump tomato during harvest season is the reward.”It’s a real treat. You take pride in it. Just like the farmers and ranchers do. It’s an accomplishment.”Rusty, a Missourian who came to Carbondale more than six decades ago, has seen her share of successful harvests. But she flatly says don’t even think about calling her an expert.”I’m not an authority. I’m just an amateur.” Another big laugh.
Then Rusty, who says she got the name Rusty from her hair before it turned gray, looks around the garden and points to a neighboring plot.”She has a fabulous plot. I get pretty envious of her,” Rusty says of the plot kept by Janet Bortz.Rusty knows all the gardeners, what they’re growing, and like everyone in the garden, she’s willing to lend a hand to whomever might need one.This garden could adopt the slogan “a community that grows together, really grows together.”Jan Senne is tucked comfortably under a wide-brimmed straw hat as she works her orderly garden. There are onions, corn, carrots and beans.For Rusty, yellow tomatoes will be the challenge. For Jan, it’s Asian melons.”I like to have something unusual and different,” she says.She’s also planning on four different kinds of corn.
At 66, Jan loves hitting the garden to stay fit and grow a few vegetables. On this day, the garden has five women working the soil, but there are men who take part, too.The garden is truly a community project. There’s the occasional rascal garden bandit, like the raccoon who helped himself to some of Jan’s corn last year, and maybe a deer or two jump the fence, but that’s to be expected. Rusty started way back in April, getting the soil ready planting seeds, picking out flowers.With the heat of summer ready to increase, there’s lots of work to be done before harvest time in August or September.But that’s what makes gardening special.A lot of hard work, a lot of hand-to-hand combat with weeds, lots of dirt under the fingernails.
Rusty is confident that later this summer she will get to slice into a juicy yellow tomato.”That will be nice,” she says with another laugh.There are really no shortcuts to gardening. You have to put in the work.”I’m always learning,” Rusty says. In gardening, talk don’t mean nothin’. Results are all that matters. Rusty knows what it means to walk the walk.”I let my garden speak for itself.” Then she lets out the biggest laugh of the day.For now, it’s time to show the weeds who’s boss.”Stories about us” is written by managing editor Dale Shrull, and is an occasional feature for the Post Independent. If you have story ideas, contact Dale at 384-9110 or email@example.com.
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