Giving Gardens Help Communities Feed Themselves

As many of you know, I’ve been working with the wonderful folks at The Lord’s Acre over the past six months, assisting in administrative capacities, setting up and organizing their online platforms, helping to clarify their message, clean up important documents, pages of their website and more alongside their board and staff. These wonderful folks started a community garden in 2009 and found such a resounding need and desire from the community, they’ve been growing and giving food to those in need since. More than a garden, they create a space for individuals and groups young to old to come out and spend time digging in the dirt and learning where their food comes from and teach them how they too, can create a garden of their own and perhaps even one that feeds their family, neighborhood or a small group of friends.

This amazing group went on to form a network for the giving gardens in Western North Carolina and helps to plan and organize meetings so that others doing this work can share resources, advice and learn from one another–from funding, to operations management to growing pains (and joys). It’s hard work yet as Susan Sides, Garden Manager of The Lord’s Acre says, “Everyone is hungry for something and everyone has something to give.” If you’re in the area pick up a copy of the May 2017 issue of The Laurel of Asheville to learn more in the short piece I wrote on the WNC Gardens that Give Network or continue reading below.

With another growing season upon us, it’s important to locate both community and giving gardens in the area for resources, volunteer opportunities and community connection. The Western NC Alliance for Gardens That Give hopes to help in all of those endeavors. As a group of volunteers, garden managers and other participants representing diverse models of community gardens in WNC, these gardeners have one main thing in common: they grow food for donation. A collection of 15 giving gardens spread throughout Western Carolina, their mission is to support each other’s success through the sharing of resources, experience and knowledge.

No two gardens are alike as each is community-specific. Several are modeled after The Lord’s Acre, a giving garden executive director Susan Sides operates in Fairview alongside a board, garden manager and a couple of interns in addition to community volunteers. Their garden alone donates anywhere between eight and 12 tons of fresh, organic food to the those in need, distributing to local food pantries and faith centers including Food for Fairview, Fairview Welcome Table, Share Market and organizations such as Green Opportunities and Bounty and Soul.

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Dig In Yancey is entering its seventh season this year and is expanding to a new plot of land just outside of Burnsville. Last year alone they donated 10,000 pounds of fresh food. Garden manager and organizational director Kathleen Wood says the organization acts as a community connector and equalizer. “What we’ve discovered in Yancey County as a rural community is that there’s a lot of pride around having a community garden that really functions well and is stable and visible,” she says. “The folks who regularly volunteer with us really appreciate that space to come and meet people and form community with others. Dig In has always been successful as a place where anybody and everybody is welcome and I think that’s an important role that we play.”

Wood also highlights the importance that community and giving gardens can play in bridging the gap from the emergency food system to the farmers market as the EFS mainly consists of corporate food surplus, dried foods and canned goods. The mission of the Gardens that Give network is to provide fresh, local “highest quality food that anyone as a human right should have,” says Wood.

Lynn Pegg of Buncombe County Recreation Services and organizer of the Sandhill Community Garden echoes a similar sentiment. “I still feel like people do not realize the benefits of community gardens,” she says. “Not only are you able to grow fresh food for your family but, in most cases, for many other families who may not have any access to fresh produce.” The Sand Hill Community Garden began in 2011 after Buncombe County Recreation Services applied for and received a grant from Nourishing North Carolina, a partnership between Blue Cross and Blue Shield of NC and the North Carolina Recreation and Parks Association, whose goal was to establish or enhance community gardens in every county in the state by the end of 2013.

“If there’s a way that our community has the capacity to grow and feed itself, we will do that, and have that table open and available. If we’re thinking about how can we meet people, heart to heart and hand to hand, in a way that recognizes we’ve all got resources and we’ve all got limitations, this is just one of the ways that we’re able to do that. This is one of the ways we find ourselves in community,” says Wood.

Dig In Yancey invites readers to help them break ground on their new land Saturday, May 6. Learn more at diginyancey.org. The Lord’s Acre hosts its annual Squaredance and Fundraiser Saturday, May 20. Learn more on their Facebook page. You can follow The Western NC Alliance for Gardens That Give on Facebook.

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