GREEN BAY AREA REGIONAL NEWS: Brown County

Harvesting a legacy: Family, friends collect & donate crops to Paul’s Pantry after gardener passes from COVID-19

Positively Wisconsin

DOOR COUNTY, Wis. (WFRV) – Geri Lynn Harju remembers the early days with her husband, Jim.

“When we met, I said I just wanted someone to go to the grocery store with,” she explains, “and he said we’re going to grow the groceries.”

Jim kept that promise.

“Corn, beans, beets, peppers, I mean you name it, he grew it,” says Geri Lynn.

The Harju’s resided in Suamico, but Jim’s pride and joy were located in Door County: his garden.

“Planting started in January,” Geri Lynn explains. “Right after Christmas we’d get the seed catalogs and we’d start filtering through.”

This year’s routine was interrupted.

“Jim got sick at the end of July with COVID-19,” says Geri Lynn. “He had left this garden meticulously weeded, and he ended up going into the hospital on August 1.”

The garden waited, but Jim never returned.

“For the rest of the summer, he wasn’t able to be out here,” Geri Lynn explains. “He died on September 16.”

He never forgot about his crops.

“He did have a week where he was able to communicate some,” Geri Lynn remembers, “and we talked about the farm and that we would harvest it and do as we did in the past.”

In the past, Geri Lynn explains, they had shared what they could with friends and donated the rest.

“Last year alone I think he donated 600 pounds of produce to Paul’s pantry,” she says.

This year, Geri Lynn and a group of friends carried on that tradition.

They came together to harvest all the vegetables that were ready.

“Everybody loaded up their vehicles and away they went,” says Geri Lynn.

All of that fresh produce was delivered to Paul’s Pantry.

“We love having that fresh produce because it’s something healthy,” says Bob Hornacek, Assistant Director of the pantry. “It’s something homegrown, everything tastes better when it comes out of a garden.”

Thanks to gardeners like Jim produce is plentiful at the pantry this time of year.

“Sometimes we think we have to do all of these great things to make a difference,” Hornacek says. “Here’s one man who had one garden, and it makes such a difference in this community. What he did mattered.”

It also mattered to Jim’s family and friends.

“It’s hugely rewarding,” Geri Lynn adds, “and we feel Jim’s presence here, and know that his spirit is happy being able to continue to donate.”

There’s one other message Geri Lynn thinks Jim would want to be attached to his legacy.

“Jim did not get vaccinated,” she says. “He regretted that. He really felt God was using his story to encourage others to get vaccinated.”

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