OVERLAND PARK, Kan. - The Mitzvah Garden at the B'nai Jehudah Jewish Temple in Overland Park, Kan., usually grows thousands of pounds of produce for local food pantries -- but the dry summer has sent water bills through the roof.
The congregation created a vegetable garden three years ago in the vacant field to the west of its synagogue at 123rd Street and Nall Avenue.
"There was nothing but weeds and shrubs and trees, nothing of importance," garden co-founder Larry Lehman said. "We tried a number of things that didn't work, so we're perfecting what we can grow and grow well."
Garden co-founder Andrew Kaplan said the Kansas City Zoo donated several truck loads of elephant manure, which volunteers used to fertilize what was clay-like dirt.
Landscaping companies agreed to dump their leaves in a compose pile near the garden, which was used to mulch the half-acre plot.
For pest control, the gardeners relied on the local wild life.
"We're able to keep all of the rabbits and chipmunks and the squirrels out because we have hawks that patrol the area 24/7," Kaplan said.
To pollinate the garden, volunteers hired two colonies of bees.
"We actually have 50,000 employees working for us full time," Kaplan said. "And they're only requirement is a hive and a little bit of water."
Still the garden lacks rain, which has sent B'nai Jehudah's water bill into the thousands.
To help make the garden self-sustaining, co-founders want to build a pavilion that would trap and store rain water throughout the year.
"We can collect about 3,600 gallons of water that we then deliver to the garden using a drip irrigation system," co-founder Ken Sonnenschein said. "We can use this gift of water to feed the hungry of our community."
In its first year, the garden produced 3,500 pounds of food. Since then the garden has doubled in size, but the drought has kept its output the same.
Organizers are still in the planning process but said they hope to begin construction on the pavilion by the end of the summer.
Those interested in getting involved can contact the garden's volunteer team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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