Putting the "Community" in Community Gardens

by Mollie Mayfield, Public Ally, Communications Coordinator We may be getting ready to bundle up in hats and scarves and hunker down for winter, and memories of spending time outside in the sun this summer may seem far away. But in gardening, winter can be a prime time for planning! Have you ever wanted to start your own garden but not known how? Or maybe you’re already an avid gardener and have been thinking about sharing your expertise and the benefits of gardening with others, say… by starting your own community garden?

If so, you’re in luck! This year, long-time IFFS volunteer Fred Woodard and Amanda Soltes, the IFFS Wake County Gardens Coordinator, along with other community experts have teamed up to put on a three-part workshop on helping folks here in the triangle get community-based garden projects up and running by Spring of 2012! The series covers planning & design, basics of gardening, tools and materials, and even shared hands-on time in one participant’s new garden.  The workshops are interactive, and designed to connect you with others interested in similar projects.

Our Community Gardens

Here at the Food Shuttle, we partner with communities to grow Community Gardens and promote healthy lifestyles. There are two major factors leading to food hardship: income & access.  Community Gardens, especially if located in food insecure areas, help increase access to healthy, nutritious food and help end hunger in those communities.  The Inter-Faith Food Shuttle has partnered with community organizations to start community gardens at 7 different sites:

  • Inter-Faith Food Shuttle’s Kitchen Garden, IFFS Headquarters, 1001 Blair Drive, Raleigh
  • Mayview neighborhood, Raleigh Housing Authority site, Behind duplex 2136 Mayview Road, Raleigh
  • Neighbor to Neighbor Outreach, 1200 S. Blount Street, Raleigh
  • Alliance Medical Ministry, 101 Donald Ross Drive, Raleigh
  • Longview School, 318 King Charles Road, Raleigh
  • Parrish Manor neighborhood, at the end of Parrish Manor Drive (4190) in Garner
  • West End Neighborhood Community Garden, 707 Kent Street, Durham- next to West End Community Center

Through innovative initiatives and partnerships, our community gardens program provides community members with education and tools necessary to improve community health and nutrition.  Community members are empowered to take back control of their food choices and lead healthier lives through increased access to fresh produce, nutrition and culinary education, and opportunities for leadership development, community building, and physical activity. Through this workshop series, we hope to expand the reach of community gardens and extend their benefits to even more communities.

The Workshops

The first workshop in the series was held Saturday, November 19th at Lakemont Swim Club, where Fred has recently started a community garden and an edible food forest. A group of enthusiastic soon-to-be-urban gardeners met to share ideas. They each drew and shared their own “Dream Gardens,” an activity inspired by the workshop Fred and IFFS Farm Manager Sun Butler attended at at Growing Power, a nonprofit in Milwuakee, WI and the national leader in intensive sustainable urban agriculture. As you may remember, the founder of Growing Power, MacArthur Fellow Will Allen, helped us kick off the community garden at Alliance Medical Ministry last year!

Lakemont Community Garden

The workshop participants shared not only the “why”s behind their interest in starting a community garden, but also the logistical “who”s “where”s and “how”s. They learned about and discussed garden types, location and size for the gardens, site considerations, whether the gardens would have individual plots or be communal, how to take a soil sample, as well as the practical aspects of running their future gardens. The gardeners came with curiosity, questions, and enthusiasm and left with answers, resources, and a supportive community to help them in this venture!

Workshop participants working on their dream garden pictures

Jasmina's dream garden plans

Jasmina's dream garden plans

The second workshop in the series will take place February 11th, 2012 from 1-3:30pm at Alliance Medical Ministry (101 Donald Ross Drive, Raleigh, 27610) and will be led by Fred, Amanda, Abbey Piner, IFFS Nutrition Coordinator and MS Horticulture candidate at NCSU, Cullen Whitley, community garden expert from Highland United Methodist Church, and Bart Renner, MS Crop Science.  This second workshop will highlight how to read soil rest results, learn the basics of amending soils, and have participants share design plans for their edible garden projects then get feedback from local experts. This is open not just to those who attended the first workshop – anyone interested in learning more can come! If you would like to attend, just contact Amanda@foodshuttle.org to RSVP by February 4th. Suggested donation of  $5-10 per person.

The workshops are interactive, and designed to connect you with others interested in similar projects. Please encourage your neighbors, friends, and colleagues to attend as well! Details for the third workshop in March will be shared soon!

Community gardens are a great way to bring local food and anti-hunger initiatives together. While you’re thinking about your own garden, whether it’s your own personal one, a community garden you already contribute to, or your own “dream garden” that you’re now planning in your head, remember that not only do community gardens help increase the health of communities and provide access to fresh, nutritious foods in food insecure communities, but food grown there can also be donated to the Food Shuttle through our Plant a Row for the Hungry program no matter what kind of community the garden is located in!   You can even plan ahead to donate food and plant an extra row, just for the hungry.

Need more inspiration? 

Here's  how IFFS volunteer Fred Woodard started his own community garden:

Fred first got involved with IFFS on Martin Luther King, Jr. day about 5 years ago. He was thinking about MLK and being service-oriented, and Fred had always loved to garden. Doing something with food seemed to be a natural fit for him. He wanted to get him and his family up and moving in the community. What better way to do that than through volunteering with the IFFS community gardens, which help build community health, wealth, and security by bringing communities together to eat, grow, cook, share, and move? Fred first started out volunteering in the IFFS Kitchen garden, where students from the Culinary Job Training program harvest fresh herbs and vegetables for their dishes. He began volunteering there soon after the garden’s creation and has helped tremendously in maintaining it. He even helped expand the garden by planting blueberry bushes and a fig tree. He now also runs the vermicomposting operation at the community garden at Alliance Medical Ministry as well.

Enjoying his engagement with the IFFS gardens, Fred decided to start a community garden in another community in which he was already involved – at Lakemont Swim & Tennis Club. He had begun managing the club and started the garden with the hope that having the garden at Lakemont would help people further invest in the community there and make the place feel even more like a community center and not just like a place people could pay to come swim or play tennis. They could build on the existing assets of the swim club – this was a place where people already gathered, and the property had plenty of unused space. The garden at Lakemont had a successful summer! Community members planted, tended to, and enjoyed a bounty of tomatoes, peppers, squash, and other delicious vegetables.

Fred's Edible Forest - a hearty kiwi plant vine grows on the swingset

Compost at the edible forest and the path from the Lakemont community garden

With the help of Bountiful Backyards and in true community fashion, interwoven relationships, Fred has since started another garden - an edible food forest just down the hill from the first garden at Lakemont. It contains a variety of fruit trees and bushes that bloom at different times of the year, maintaining different insect populations. In Fred’s “Dream Garden” vision, the garden and edible food forest at Lakemont will one day connect, with cultivated gardens spreading down the hillside along a path from one to the other.