Dan the Garden Man

“Man, despite his artistic pretensions, his sophistication and many accomplishments, owes his existence to honeybees, a six inch layer of topsoil, and the fact that it rains.”


by Jen Masterson, with photos by Jeff Rockwell

Though we don’t know who “Anonymous” is, we do know a man who lives with a great understanding of this statement. Dan Johnson is a gardener, mentor, and friend, who has spent this past season as Middleton Outreach Ministry’s volunteer Garden Manager. This is an ideal fit for Dan as he has spent his adult life with the mission of identifying communal wrongs and organizing citizens to resolve the issues. In this case, fighting hunger.

Dan’s servitude for community began in 1970 when he left the comforts of home for the Community Development Peace Corps group in Bahia, Brazil. During his three and half years with the Peace Corp and five and a half years farming a plot of land purchased with a friend from Brazil, Dan integrated himself into cultures while learning gardening skills and helping people in the communities he was in. Seeing success with projects he was involved with helped him realize the importance of bringing people together to resolve great issues. As Dan would say, “the rest is history.”

Today, Dan and his wife are retired and live in Middleton. Dan’s involvement with MOM was inspired by his wife, who is a long-time volunteer with the organization. The lessons, passion, and experiences he had in Brazil resonate through the work he now does with MOM.

In the garden’s second season, it currently hosts 21 gardeners and 5 mentors. At mid-harvest, the gardeners have gathered over 2,300 pounds from the garden, with the food going to the homes of families that gardened as well as the MOM food pantry. Aside from the MOM Community Garden, Dan and a small group of friends over the age of 64, self-titled the Geezer Gleaners, has rounded up nearly 34,000 pounds of food from farm fields in Dane County this season.

Dan’s zeal for the MOM Community Garden continues with bountiful plans for the future to integrate more MOM clients at the garden and to inspire others to get involved in their community. If you would like to help Dan fight hunger in our community through this program next spring, contact MOM’s Volunteer Program Manager.

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