Column: Putting 'community' into gardening

Jul. 19, 2014 @ 09:43 AM

North Carolina is a hotbed of community garden beds! People from Murphy to Manteo are engaging in various forms of community agriculture. There are many forces driving this resurgence of interest in growing your own food. For some it is to assure that the food is free of pesticides and chemicals; for others it is for out-of-the-ground freshness; for others it is to save money in feeding their families; and for still others it is a way for them to help assure access to food for those who cannot afford to purchase it. Another term for that is “food justice.”

Regardless of your motivation, there are many opportunities for you to enjoy gardening while enjoying the benefits of a community activity. There are days when I am in the garden alone. Those days are tolerable, but the very best days in the garden for me are when I am there when others have come to work in their garden bed, too. It creates a platform of common interest upon which friendships can be built, often with people you might not have met otherwise.

Unity Park & Community Garden (UPCG) is, by far, the largest community garden in Caldwell County. It is really several gardening projects on one large site. There are two garden zones. One zone is for individuals or organizations who want to plant, grow, and harvest food for themselves and their families or for specific programs. These 60 beds are restricted to use by those gardeners. Others should not harvest any produce or plants from this garden. The second garden contains 15 beds and is managed by volunteers who grow and produce flowers for anyone to enjoy. The harvest rule for these beds is pick today what you can use today, and leave excess for others to harvest.

The fruit tree project in UPCG has scores of apples trees, pear trees and European plum trees. Once this orchard produces sufficient fruit, part will be shared with UPCG gardeners, part to food distribution agencies, and part will be sold to help sustain the operations of the garden. The same is true of the blueberry patch.

Community gardening is different from private farming because of the cooperative activities that are required to bring the sense of Community into the concept of community gardening. Volunteers who are not gardeners come to help with pulling weeds or spread mulch. Donors make contributions to the garden fund so the various programs of the garden can be sustained. Elementary school students from Caldwell County Schools created and installed a beautiful tile artwork to beautify the retaining wall in the garden. City employees have volunteer work days where some very important manual labor is done to help sustain the garden. This is truly a community garden because of community support.

If you would like to learn more about joining the community of gardeners, leave me a message at 828-757-6162.