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Gardening on the Square
Toni Wellman, center, from Monroe, looks at plants with her children, 9-month-old Bryn and 3-year-old Joah, in the new garden on the southeast corner of the downtown Square, part of Main Street Monroes Farmin on the Square promotion. (Times photo: Katjusa Cisar)
MONROE - An empty lot of loose gravel across from the Goetz Theatre downtown has been transformed into a garden planted with crops native to the area, from alfalfa to zinnias.

The garden of raised beds is intended to give visitors and locals firsthand appreciation of the phrase "farm to table." It was planted in May as part of Farmin' on the Square, Main Street Monroe's two-year promotion of the area's close connection with farmers, cheesemakers and artists.

"It's really turned into a nice beautification process for downtown," said Amy Brandt, executive director of Main Street Monroe.

A small stage in a corner of the lot can be used for cooking demos, concerts and other performances. Depending on how the crops turn out, local restaurants may be invited later this summer to feature ingredients grown in the garden, Brandt said.

Most of all, she envisions the garden as a place for "people to come together."

The garden's lot belongs to Pat and Linda Beckman, owners of Cannova's Italian Cuisine in Freeport, and is intended to one day be the Monroe location of their pizzeria.

In the meantime, Main Street Monroe is calling the lot Cannova's Garden of Eaten' - a play on words from the biblical Garden of Eden. Crops in the 68'-by-42' lot include a "pizza garden," root vegetables, summer squash, morning glories, corn, pole beans, eggplant, pumpkins, herbs, oats and sunflowers.

The garden is divided in three sections, with children in area 4-H clubs tasked with tending to each section: Cheese Country Clovers 4-H Club, Clarno 4-H and the Browntown Busy Beavers.

But the garden as a whole is a community-wide effort.

The design comes from the South Central Wisconsin Master Gardener Association. Monroe High School students helped build the beds as part of a service day back in May. Most of the building materials were either recycled or repurposed. As elsewhere around the downtown Square, local art has been incorporated into the design, including a colorful rooster named Chanticleer.

"Any time we have a chance to beautify a lot, it's a big undertaking," Brandt said.

Now the work is starting to pay off, as passersby stop to check out the garden, sit on the stage or examine the growing seedlings.

"It's so lovely to see people enjoying that area," she said.