The group held its monthly meeting at the Aztec Library on Monday night to organize a planting schedule for the Samaritan Village Community Garden in Aztec.
New member Debbie Higgs, fundraises for the club on behalf of AmeriCorps, a national program that places workers with organizations that develop programs to alleviate poverty.
Higgs, 23, is leading the way for a community garden at the Boys and Girls Club in Farmington.
"I really appreciate that they've (SSJ) have taken such an interest in my garden project, shared a lot of their ideas and expertise," Higgs said. "And they are action-oriented and really listen. I have tremendous respect for them."
Joann Clifford, an SSJ member, is the coordinator for the garden, which started three years ago.
"The way our whole group has gone has been without any budget," Clifford said. "Every time we need something or some help, people have stepped in to share in the work."
Work is something Clifford knows well, having grown up working on farms near Corvallis, Ore., where she grew up and lived most of her life. She moved to Aztec to retire and live near her children.
"I'm 68 now and I've been working the soil since age four," she said. "When I was a kid, we didn't have a mall to hang out in. We worked for a little pay picking beans or strawberries or planting and weeding."
"The farmers I worked for as a kid taught me how to harvest the land with respect and skill," she said. "If I picked off too much of the stalk with the bean, I was told I was taking next season's crop. A poorly tied square knot for a planting and I heard, 'Half a job is nothing.' I never forgot that."
Clifford will start a new season at the community garden with visits from the Aztec Boys and Girls Club.
Last fall, members of the club volunteered at the garden by spreading leaf mulch and building a compost bin out of wood pallets a SSJ member rescued out of the a grocery store dumpster.
"It's a really great learning experience for the kids and a lot of help," Clifford said. "In the past, some of them complained a bit about the work, but I told them they'd been 'volun-told,' and soon they were all smiles and gratified by their efforts."
Clifford's ultimate goal is to continue the garden with help from young and old and learn teamwork and the value of the experience.
"I had one young person tell me he'd never 'had a tomato from a plant before.' Coming out to work in the garden teaches them the continuity, from tilling and planting to delicious ingredients for a flavorful meal," she said.
The roughly 80-by-100-foot garden, which is on donated land on the east side of the hilly Four Corners Village Good Samaritan Society nursing home campus, affords its visitors a sweeping, panoramic view of the entire county.
Aside from the breathtaking views, Clifford, who finds herself most days of the week in the summer working with others at the garden, is most proud of the garden's cost-free operation, made possible by the generosity of people who donate everything from bags of leaves and hay bales to their energy and ideas.
Vegetables and herbs are labeled using thrown out mini blinds cut to size. And new heavy-duty fencing to replace the nylon barrier that surrounds two sides of the garden will soon arrive courtesy of a member who had plenty left over after building his straw bale home. The nylon fencing has not deterred various rabbits or dogs from raiding the garden's kale crop over the winter, Clifford said.
"You work and constantly discover little miracles with a shared garden," Clifford said. "That's the beauty of working together this way. There are wonderful surprises every day."
For more information on Sustainable San Juan and the Good Samaritan Community Garden, visit sustainablesanjuan.com.
James Fenton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; 564-4621. Follow him on Twitter @fentondt.