by Therese Horvat
Special to The Leaven
BONNER SPRINGS — The simple yet profound wisdom of St. Teresa of Calcutta has shaped the mission and become the motto of The Planter’s Table, a business established here last year by Jane and Larry Broxterman, with the intention of committing 50% of the family’s garden produce to area food pantries.
In April and May alone, the Broxtermans donated over 90% of their first crops to three different pantries. That amounted to 140 pounds of triple hand-washed lettuce and kale, and several gallons of spinach, beets, carrots and herbs. After giving away the last of their lettuce, they had to purchase some from the grocery store for a family meal!
The Broxtermans have had a vegetable garden since moving to Bonner Springs in 2007. In the past, they would eat, can and freeze the produce. Jane, a primary care physician at the University of Kansas Medical Center, shared their surplus with co-workers.
Last year, the family also donated vegetables to the Grow-a-Row program at their parish, Holy Angels in Basehor, for distribution to the Leavenworth Interfaith Community of Hope.
All the while, the words attributed to St. Teresa of Calcutta kept ringing in their ears and hearts: “We can do no great things, only small things with great love,” and “If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.”
The family, moreover, had come through the relatively recent experience of Jane’s recovery from an aggressive cancer, and they saw the devastating impact COVID-19 was having on people’s lives. They felt blessed, and they wanted to do more.
“We realized that we have the ability, the means, the space and the knowledge to do more,” said Larry.
“We kept asking ourselves,” said Jane, “‘What is the need? Where can we give whatever we have? How can we change and do better?’”
The Broxtermans spent the fall and winter of 2020 figuring out ways to accomplish this. The Planter’s Table evolved as the answer to their questions and the response to St. Teresa of Calcutta’s philosophy of Christian charity. The name of their business reflects the couple’s desire to start small — filling one table at a time from their bounty.
Larry focused on improving the quality of the soil and maximizing productivity of the garden. Last fall, the 3,400-square-foot area had very few earthworms, typically indicators of healthy soil. By layering compost and straw, Larry shaped natural raised beds without edging. This no-till method formed walking paths between the beds that help prevent compacting of the soil.
This year, the beds are teeming with earthworms. The garden is likewise free of chemicals.
As Larry was growing seedlings for their garden, the couple realized they could grow more, sell the plants and reinvest proceeds into their efforts. They took pre-orders and grew 230 tomato plants and 99 pepper plants.
Without a greenhouse, Jane recalled, laughing, the plants were everywhere, including the laundry room that served as a hothouse with a space heater and heat lamps.
Companion planting of different vegetables, herbs and flowers has increased yield. At the base of tomato plants, Larry planted basil, cilantro and marigolds, the latter to ward off pesky insects. Beets and onions went in rows next to one another. Radishes popped up at the ends of a row just in time for cucumbers to take off in the same row.
Because they want to source the pantries well, the Broxtermans have limited their donations to three organizations: Basehor-Linwood Assistance Services, Basehor; Cross-Lines Community Outreach, Kansas City, Kansas; and The Good Shepherd Thrift Shop & Food Bank, Tonganoxie. They work with the pantries to identify their needs, preferred packaging and the best times to drop off the produce.
The entire family participates in The Planter’s Table. This includes: Adam, 16; Luke, 14; Lydia, 11; and Anna, 8. They assist with layering compost and straw, planting seeds and seedlings, reaping the harvest, washing vegetables and delivering the produce. They take satisfaction in knowing that they can be helpful and make a difference in people’s lives.
Onions, tomatoes, peppers, sweet potatoes and corn have been among the most recent produce harvested. Building a greenhouse from old, recycled windows is on the autumn agenda. Larry also anticipates they will expand the garden space.
Other than a schematic that designates locations of the plantings, the family doesn’t have an exact plan for The Planter’s Table, said Jane. At the same time, however, she and Larry agree that God has a plan for them — and that it continues to unfold.