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Community garden thrives; more church involvement sought
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Hope Community Garden now is in its sixth year, and continues to provide fresh produce to area food banks. Although it is doing well, more churches are being sought to help.

Monday, June 23, 2014

By PAUL COLLINS - Bulletin Staff Writer

Hope Community Garden, begun in 2009, is still going strong, though an official urges more churches to get involved.

On the other hand, there was not enough interest for the city of Martinsville to have a community garden program this year.

Hope Community Garden was spearheaded by Starling Avenue Baptist Church. In addition to Starling Avenue Baptist, St. Joseph’s Catholic Church has been actively involved in the garden, and Christ Episcopal Church made a donation, officials have said.

Toni Tollison of Starling Avenue Baptist, one of the leaders of Hope Community Garden, said so far this year more than 35 pounds of leaf lettuce, onions, beets and broccoli have been donated to Grace Network and Citizens Against Family Violence.

“We were a little late getting started.... We first planted in May this year because of the late frost,” Tollison said.

“We missed out on last fall’s growing season,” she said. Deer and ground hogs “cleaned out” the hundreds of plants that had been planted in the garden. “That’s probably the most heartbroken I’ve ever been,” she said.

Since then, volunteers put up landscape and farm fencing to protect the garden, she added.

The garden has 10 or 11 raised beds and a number of tire beds, all on top of a gravel parking lot, Tollison said. The cinderblock garden beds are mostly about four feet wide and range in length from about eight feet to about 29 feet, she added.

Typically, spring, summer and fall crops are planted in Hope Community Garden. Currently the garden has tomatoes, okra, cabbage squash (yellow and zucchini), cucumbers, lettuce, onions and broccoli; beets already have been pulled, Tollison said.

“Gardening is therapeutic. It’s wonderful to grow things. I love we are getting fresh vegetables for the hungry,” Tollison said.

She said several volunteers from Starling Avenue Baptist and several volunteers from St. Joseph’s Catholic Church regularly work at the garden, and youth do projects once or twice a year. For example, in spring 2012, Girl Scouts planted 100 cabbage plants in the garden in honor of the 100th anniversary of the Girl Scouts, according to a previous report.

Starling Avenue Baptist’s youth group, which includes youth from that church and their friends, also does projects at the garden, Tollison added.

The last youth project in the garden was adding tires and filling them with dirt. “That’s a task,” Tollison said.

Some people who live near the garden also help out and have garden beds, Tollison said.

She told of an added benefit: Some young children who live nearby, after coming to the garden, have in turn attended Starling Avenue Baptist’s Wednesday afternoon music, missions and Bible study program for children in grades 1-5.

There is no charge to have a garden bed if some of the vegetables grown are given to the underprivileged, Tollison said. There is a nominal charge to have a garden bed to grow vegetables solely for personal consumption, she added.

It’s an organic garden. “We use only organic fertilizers. We don’t use chemicals unless listed as organic,” Tollison said.

They also have a compost bin, she added.

She said she feels Hope Community Garden brings people together and provides a “sense of community.”

In addition to doing such things as cutting grass, weeding, planting and harvesting, volunteers take vegetables to shut-ins, Tollison said.

Hope Community Garden “has empty space we could turn into beds,” she added. She encourages more churches to get involved.

She noted that Crouch’s Nursery and Southern States have donated such things as plants, soil and fertilizer to the garden.

in 2011, 223 pounds of produce from the garden were donated to Grace Network. More recent annual figures were not available Friday.

Things are not as upbeat for the city’s community garden initiative.

Zach Morris, programs coordinator for the Martinsville Parks & Recreation Department, said the city has land available for garden plots, but, “Unfortunately, this year we didn’t have enough in participation to have one (a community garden program).”

The city had a program for a number of years, and, “More than likely we will start advertising for next year,” he said.

“I think it’s a good idea. It’s a good learning experience, a good hobby and helps save money (on food),” he said.

Garden plots help some people who don’t have much land to garden, such as duplex and apartment dwellers, he added.

In the past in the city program, there was a small tutorial to teach people who didn’t know how to garden about such things as light, water, soil, how some plants spread and some grow up, etc., he said.


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