Bringing the Garden Back to Life

Photo of a pile of multicolored gardening gloves and two small hand shovels sitting on an outdoor table.

After a lot of challenging work, the gardens at NW Works, Inc. are ready for spring. And it is all thanks to two Direct Support Professionals, Tobi Lake and Zikara Lively. Pulling weeds, clearing out old plants and prepping additional beds took over 20 hours of their personal time. But they say they were happy to give it up.

“[It’s] for our guys,” said Lake, as she pulled stubborn roots from the soil. “So that they can have something that is nice and safe, and to be a part of something else.”  

Photo of Tobi Lake pulling weeds from a raised garden bed. Tobi is kneeling next to the bed. Tobi is a caucasian woman with long dark red hair.
Tobi Lake weeds a garden bed in preparation for use in the spring.

The gardening program at NW Works taught service recipients not only how to garden, but how to cook. The tomatoes, peppers, okra, kale, zucchini, squash, and peas grown throughout the summer, explained Lake. Clients cooked recipes like butternut squash soup, zucchini bread, in the cafeteria kitchen.

This year, different service areas within the Group Day Support program each cared for their own bed. While only a single watermelon grew in one of the beds, all the gardeners shared it.

Preparing for Spring

Lively and Lake are already planning how to improve the gardening program next year, with all Group Day participants caring for the entire garden on a rotating basis so the plants would receive consistent care. 

“We only used five this year,” Lake said, referring to the 10 raised beds. “Next year we want to try to be able to use all of them.” 

After laying down the weed whacker she was using, Lively crouched next to a large cherry tomato plant that was still laden with ripening fruit, despite the dropping temperatures. Plucking off the tomatoes, Lively laid out her plan for the beds. 

“On half of the garden we’re going to be doing vegetables…on the other half, obviously, fruits,” she said. “In the back, we’re going to have herbs.”  

On the list? Watermelons, strawberries, cantaloupe, raspberries, plus a return of high-yield tomatoes and peppers. They plan to conduct a survey of staff to get ideas of seeds to purchase for next year.

A Garden for the Community

“I think it would be awesome to have one day a week where [community members] could come and volunteer, and possibly pick some of the product after they’re done,” said Lively. Currently, through NW Works’s Community Engagement program, participants volunteer packing food boxes for the Knights of Columbus Father Krempa Soup Kitchen. Lively hopes to potentially support the soup kitchen next year with the harvests. “Getting our extra produce and donating it or even selling it would be awesome to get the community involved.”

Jim Stevenson, the Director of Therapeutic Programs, was the inspiration behind the project, the women said.

Close up photo of a person using a weed whacker to cut grass.
Zikara Lively trims the grass between garden beds with a weed whacker.

“He preaches to us all the time about being that one percent and just being elite,” Lively said. “I feel like I looked at this garden and there was so much potential, and I felt like if you just put your mind to it and a little bit of dedication, it will get done and it will make a world of difference.” 

Although the pair tackled the project themselves, they say in the future, they would welcome help from outside volunteers. “It would be a good way to get everybody from the community in,” said Lake.  

Pausing from harvesting the last of the tomatoes, Lively shared her hopes for the end of their hard work. 

“I’m just super excited to see it all finished and to see the guys’ faces when they get to be involved and engaged in it.” 

Photo of large black trash bags filled with weeds and dead plants.
Yard waste from the garden fills many black trash bags.