Community gardens keep on giving
In my last article, I covered the basics on community gardens. A community garden is any piece of land gardened by a group of people. Community gardens are as varied as the neighborhoods where they are located. They can be at schools, parks, housing projects, churches, vacant lots, private properties or where ever there is open land and lots of sunlight. This week, I want to tell you about some of the community gardens that are right here (in your community). They seem to be popping up all over town, which is a good thing!
I’ll begin with the Train Depot Community Garden on Cypress Street. It initially was started four years ago by Mark Seitz, who is now the Pender County Extension Director. Its goal was to get high school kids involved in a summer program. They began with five beds; then the Phoenix House did five more; followed by neighborhood residents planting three more. Now, there are 33 planting areas on this corner lot. I met people working in the gardens from James City, River Bend and some living in downtown New Bern — areas where there isn’t enough land for them to have a garden or perhaps they just don’t want one on their own property. The city of New Bern owns the land and each plot is “rented” for $20 annually, mostly to cover the cost of the water. Julius Parham is the caretaker who cuts the grass, weed eats around the beds and is the contact for soil deliveries. The New Bern Parks and Recreation Department has put in a grant application for fencing. One of the garden plots here is a city project and the produce from it is donated to RCS (Religious Community Services). The plants were donated by the Lenoir County Master Gardeners.
The Food Bank garden was started just one year ago and you should see it now! It’s off Glenburnie past Neuse, but before Hatteras Yachts right behind the Food Bank building. There are 13 raised beds in addition to the six rows of corn and 12 rows of mixed vegetable crops. Mary Esther Baker, Greenville/New Bern Branch Development officer, came to the county Extension garden and asked for volunteers to help with the Food Bank garden. Ann Ocorr, John Krofchick, Dewitt Sheffield and Sheila Weibert immediately volunteered their services. They’re growing tomatoes, squash, zucchini, radishes, peppers, beans, cabbage, broccoli, potatoes and corn. Girl Scout Troop 119 plants and takes care of four 4-by-10 foot beds there. I was there one Saturday while Sheila was showing them how to plant seeds, weed and add the tomato cages. What a great age to learn about gardening!
For those of you not familiar with the Food Bank of Central and Eastern N.C., it was established in 1980 as a nonprofit organization that has provided food for people at risk of hunger in 34 counties. It serves a network of more than 800 agencies such as soup kitchens, food pantries, shelters and programs for children and adults through warehouses, one of which is here in New Bern. Once the crops are harvested, various agencies then come pick them up at the Food Bank.
There is a large vegetable garden on the grounds of the Craven County Cooperative Extension Office on Industrial Drive off Clarks Road. It was started by Mike Price and is tended by the Craven County Master Gardeners and other volunteers with Rick Walters now heading up the project. At the Ag Center Garden they also teach and educate as well as try new seeds and plants. This year several basil plants were put in between the tomatoes to see if that would control the bugs. A group of middle school to early high school age 4-H kids are working in the garden this year and are growing their own row of vegetables. All of the produce from this garden goes to RCS, Good Shepherd Home for the Aged, shut-ins and the elderly in the inner city.
When Mike Price announced his retirement from the Agricultural Center at the Cooperative Extension Office, he received a call from Gov. Beverly Purdue asking him not to quit. Over the years, she has presented him with several Governor Awards for all the work he’s done in the community. He currently has a nice garden in his backyard with mostly tomatoes and peppers.
John Krofchick and DeWitt Sheffield are working two large gardens just outside of New Bern. The one at the Spring Garden Baptist Church is 1½ acres and consists of just about every vegetable that will grow in our area. The harvest is for church members and anything leftover goes to the Food Bank or RCS. They also have a two acre community garden out that way, where they grow produce for the needy. These two gentlemen are busy, as they are working all of these gardens in addition to their own!
The garden at the Craven County Extension Office Ag Center has produced over 6,000 pounds of vegetables over 23 years. With output from the newer gardens, the total delivered is an amazing 150,000 pounds!
I heard that a new community garden had been started in Duffyfield. So, I asked Tim McLear, who has done lots of work in that neighborhood with canal clean up and a new water diversion project, to help me find it. I found Martin Moore of Interfaith Friends for Peace pulling weeds on the corner of K and G streets. The plants in the few raised beds that were started looked very healthy. The goal is to have 16 plots that will be leased to Duffyfield residents for $20 per year. The money will be used to pay the water bill for the garden. Money has been donated for hoses, tools, a shed and a water line; and Lowe’s donated the lumber. Hopefully, by mid-summer we will see many of the residents here working in the garden and taking home lots of fresh, healthy produce for their families.
I’m quite sure that I have not given mention to every community garden in the area. And, all community garden produce does not have to be donated, but can be used for the enjoyment and healthy eating of those who have toiled to produce it. Just like in my yard where my neighbors are working in my raised beds to grow and share some wonderful crops, you can band together with others to begin your own community garden. It is wise to start small to see how it all works out for everyone involved. Happy growing (and eating)!