By Moira Blazi
When Joanne Fry and her husband Jerry moved to Pipe Creek Road out-side of Libby in 2002, she thought she would plant a garden. She hired some-one to rototill a sunny place about the size of an Olympic swimming pool, she put up some deer fencing, and she started planting.
Now, 17 years later, Joanne’s Garden of Eat’in is a local treasure of fresh, delicious, organic, and completely locally-sourced produce.
Joanne wasn’t always a gardener; in fact, she and her late husband Jerry spent many years sailing the world’s waters. “My husband and I were boat people,” she said wistfully, “and when we were sail-ing, no, I didn’t garden.” she told The Montanian with a grin. In between sailing journeys to Hawaii, Panama, and the Atlantic coast, to name a few, they would build a house, sell it and buy the next boat, Fry said.
What made the Frys decide to settle down here, she did not reveal, but Joanne jumped into gardening with the same focused fervor that she had for sailing. She began planting every vegetable you can name, all from seeds and she still keeps them.
“I save some spinach seeds, a variety called Whale, (named for its gi-ant leaves),” she said, “because only one seed company has it. And I’ve been saving a certain vari-ety of sweet pepper for years; it’s no longer a hy-brid, its my own strain now,” Fry told The Monta-nian.
Joanne doesn’t charge for her bounty, but most folks gladly put cash in her donation jar. “What peo-ple donate covers about 1/3 of the cost of the gar-den. It’s about $1,200 per season,” Fry said.
That’s okay with Jo-anne. She doesn’t do it for the money. She loves to grow whatever folks want her to grow. “For the past few years kale was the fad,” she said with a smile. “Now beets are the big thing. Everybody wants beets to juice and pickle, so I am growing lots of beets this year. A couple of years ago, a woman want-ed to make a lot of sauer-kraut and I grew the cab-bage for her. And I grow collard greens for the few southern folks we have here in Libby.”
Joanne welcomes kids, and they absolutely love her garden. She has a cou-ple of butterfly nets wait-ing for young visitors who she gets to help her con-trol white cabbage moths.
“I tell them I will give them a nickel for every bad white butterfly they catch,” she said.
Joanne shared a story about a boy of around 12, who came out to her gar-den. “He said he hated carrots,” she recalled. “I said, ‘come with me’ and I took him to the carrot patch. I told him to pull up a carrot, take it to the washing table and take a bite. His eyes got big and he said, ‘that’s good!’ It doesn’t even taste like a carrot!”
Another story she shared was from a few years back. “A young girl handed me a hundred dol-lar bill,” she said. “I hand-ed it back, because I didn’t have a lot of change, but her mother told me she knows what she is doing, she wants you to have it.”
Joanne uses nothing but her own compost and mink manure from a mink farm down the road. Mink manure is great, she said, because minks, being meat-eaters, are not full of grass seed.
To combat soft-bodied insects, Fry uses natural diatomaceous earth. “I hand pick off the beetles,” she said with a laugh, “and put them in a bucket of beer. I guess they die of intoxication.”
During the hot, dry summer, the garden gets watered by a combination of overhead rain birds, lawn sprinklers, and soak-er hoses.
The county crews reg-ularly drop off piles of woodchips, which Fry us-es to cover the wide, wheelchair accessible paths that crisscross her garden.
“Last year, not as many people came out,” Fry said. “It was a combina-tion of the fires and Jerry being gone, so I had over 200 pounds of peppers left. You know that’s a lot of peppers, cause peppers don’t weigh that much.”
Fry donated her lefto-ver peppers to Libby’s food bank. “One of the reasons I grow, is because people can’t afford to pay a dollar a beet,” she said.
Although she is slowed down a bit by arthritis and osteoporosis these days, she still gets down on her hands and knees to weed her crops. Fry did every-thing by herself until the last three years. Now, for-tunately, Fry said, she has some help from “Antonio, Josh and his wife.”
Joanne’s Garden of Eat’in, this year, is every bit as vibrant, gorgeous, and bounteous as ever. The strawberries and snow peas will be ready soon. Come on out!
Gardening for good: Joanne’s Garden of Eat’in
Joanne Fry in her garden. Photo by Moira Blazi, The Montanian.
By Moira Blazi