Hard-working gardeners create a place to relax, partake in produce they’ve grown
The Galveston County Master Gardeners are putting the finishing touches on the Discovery House, which might be the ultimate farm-to-table kitchen. The building includes a small meeting space, dining room and kitchen for hard-working and hungry master gardeners at their facility in La Marque’s Carbide Park, 4102 Main St.
The remodeled building, which previously served as a tractor shed and had grown in size and purpose over the past decade, recently got a makeover that includes an expanded area for tables inside and out, and an up-to-date food serving area and kitchen.
It took more than a year, and progress was further slowed by the COVID-19 closure of the facility, but the shiny new building is ready for use. Master Gardener volunteers did most of the heavy lifting and construction. No tax dollars were used for the project. Instead, the organization used $80,000 in donations and money raised from its plant sales to pay for the project.
“Master gardeners who work on the gardens can come in here at noon, participate in a potluck lunch with other master gardeners, enjoy the social part of our organization and share their knowledge,” said Sharon Zaal, president of the Galveston County Master Gardeners.
Members sit at long, handmade tables and converse over lunches prepared on the nearby outdoor grill and eat a plethora of fresh vegetables and salads, with many of the ingredients coming from the nearby Discovery Garden.
“We prefer the long tables,” said Ira Gervais, past president of the group. “We believe it enhances the flow of knowledge among our members.”
On any given Thursday before the COVID-19 crisis, up to 70 master gardeners gathered to work in the field — planting, weeding, fertilizing, testing and harvesting. The group donated much of the produce grown in the Discovery Garden to local food banks. A large donation board hangs in the meeting room, noting the amount of tomatoes, onions, peppers, okra and dozens of other fruits, herbs and vegetables given to the community.
But there’s always enough for the workers, too. When they go into the building, they’re ready to relax and have a good meal.
“We were running out of space,” said Gervais, referring to the original structure.
College of the Mainland assistant professor Andrew Gregory helped the project by drawing up plans to expand the footprint of the small structure, Gervais said.
The structure met all hurricane-required codes and county requirements. Two covered patios with ceiling fans for outside dining or classes were added and inside they installed new cabinets and appliances in the kitchen area. Shaker-style cabinets, painted a light gray, were installed, along with a deep farm sink and dark granite countertops. The backsplash and rear wall of the kitchen features oversize white subway tiles, giving the room a clean and industrial look. Outside is a second sink for rinsing utensils, although lunch is served on recycled paper plates.
Extra storage cabinets were needed for supplies, and a special nook for the refrigerator and the freezer was incorporated into the plans. Glass-fronted cabinets installed high above the others are for rarely used bowls or ornamentals. The concrete floors were sanded and stained and then stained again to get the color right, said Kevin Lancon, a Master Gardener volunteer who helped with the work.
An outdoor grill is used for the burgers, ribs, hotdogs or sausages prepared for the group, and sometimes a brisket or deep-fried turkey is on the menu — cooked in a Cajun style usually, Gervais said. Members bring covered dishes of their favorite salads, side dishes and casseroles and one table is reserved for the outpouring of desserts. A beverage counter was placed near the serving area so diners could pick up their silverware, condiments and drinks before finding an empty seat.
“We can’t wait to get back in,” said Linda Barnett, a Master Gardener who chairs the kitchen committee and helped design the industrial farm kitchen.
William Johnson, the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service’s Galveston County horticulture extension agent, is proud of the members, who volunteered their time and energy to create the space, he said.
Besides functioning as the kitchen and dining area, the building will serve the Master Gardeners well in the future. Demonstrations on grafting, figs, canning and composting will be held there because of its proximity to the garden, which measures about 4.5 acres. Hands-on workshops on tools, herbs and even cooking classes can be conducted in the space. A large flat-screen TV will allow for presentations for the audience to see and a place where teams can meet as they plan the bi-annual plant sale.
“I am excited that the renovated Discovery House will be able to provide a more comfortable and more functional space to provide educational programs on site for our community residents as well as our Master Gardener volunteers,” Johnson said. “There is also a definite plus for visitors and Master Gardener volunteers to be able take a break from hot, cold or inclement weather conditions that occur in our Gulf Coast region.”