The gardens behind Johnstown's Church of the Ascension are cultivating bonds among neighbors, families and the community, and organizers expect it will keep growing every year.

The gardens behind Johnstown's Church of the Ascension are cultivating bonds among neighbors, families and the community, and organizers expect it will keep growing every year.

Dick Steyer and Rodney Tornes plow about 10 acres of the church's property that has been transformed into the Ascension Gardens. It's a charity outreach of the church, as well as a community garden plot where anyone can rent ground for a nominal fee.

Steyer said the number of plots requested by community members has doubled since last year, with 104 10-by-10 foot plots being rented by about 20 people.

Concord Crossing condo resident Cheryl Grubaugh has 20 plots with her neighbor. They've planted red and green romaine lettuce, spinach, beets, sugar snap peas, tomatoes, corn, cucumbers, pumpkins, zucchini, sunflowers and gladiolas.

"It has been so much fun," she said. "There has been a push to eat more natural things. It's nice to grow your own. You know it's clean and healthy."

Her parents, Richard and Nancy Wright of Newark, also enjoy the community garden.

"They enjoy working in it and getting things," Grubaugh said. "They haven't had a garden in years. We're just thrilled to have it."

Steyer said three acres of the church's property is used by the Johnstown-Monroe High School FFA for a garden. About one-third of an acre makes up the community garden. The rest accounts for the Ascension Gardens, which provide the most produce at Johnstown's Farmers Market every Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon in the town square.

The Ascension Gardens has four acres of sweet corn, 600 tomato plants (10 to 15 varieties), as well as green beans, onions, pumpkins, melons, sugar snap peas, broccoli, turnips and beets, among other crops. They've also started growing blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, rhubarb and grapes for next year.

Ascension's corn is expected to be ready for the market in early July.

"Everything is looking better than last year," Steyer said.

The question Steyer hears from most community gardeners is about watering, since there's no easy access to water.

"We just say we pray for it," he said. "We aren't watering anything."

He emphasizes that the gardens aren't for profit but for community outreach.

"It would be tough as a business," he said. "It takes time. People come out and it's like a club."

One regular is Jack Walsh, a veteran in his 80s who "hoes and hoes and hoes," Steyer said.

"We have some produce that goes to the food pantry, and the Ascension is associated with St. Vincent De Paul Society in Newark. We send to the homeless shelter."

Tornes said produce is also sold to parishioners after mass, but the main focus is community partnership.

"People in the community garden talk and learn a lot," he said. "They'll ask us questions. They think we know what we're doing. Sometimes we do, sometimes not."

Tornes and Steyer both studied agricultural engineering in college.

Steyer is from a family of 10 brothers and sisters and was reared on a farm, and Tornes also was reared on a farm in southeast Ohio.

Tornes' father has even loaned a tractor for use at the gardens. It's stored in a new shed made possible through a monetary donation from the Knights of Columbus.

"Our newest tractor is 45 years old," Steyer said. "We have equipment from the '50s."

Charlie Kramer said Ascension Gardens sold out of all its produce - except for turnips - at the June 19 Johnstown Farmers Market.

Although the Ascension Gardens is the largest produce vendor at the market, the farmers market is a separate entity with a six-member board. Proceeds from last year's farm market were donated to the Johnstown American Legion Post to help with the Independence Day fireworks.

Steyer said watermelons were especially noticed by farm market goers last year.

"We had a 35-pound watermelon," he said.

Steyer anticipates another healthy crop of melons to be ready for market this summer.

"It will grow every year," he said. "A lot of the people who had plots in the community garden came back from last year and wanted more."