Many people have dreamed of starting a community garden in west Georgia, but may not have the time, organization or support they need to make their garden dreams a reality. Get Healthy, Live Well is inviting local groups to apply as Garden Partners in the “Come Grow With Us!” campaign aimed at equipping west Georgia groups with the tools and materials they need to start new community gardens.
Get Healthy, Live Well and its partners launched two community gardens in 2013, and the collaborative plans to expand efforts by working with local organizations to bring additional gardens to Carroll, Haralson and Heard counties this spring. Tanner Health System and Keep Carroll Beautiful are also sponsoring the new gardens.
Get Healthy, Live Well will assist selected organizations in establishing community gardens in March and April. Local groups will receive expert guidance and support in designing a garden plan, building planting beds, organizing seasonal garden events and establishing a sustainable maintenance schedule. The task force is offering its assistance and knowledge base to ensure that new community gardens have the right elements in place to be successful.
Organizations or residents of Carroll, Haralson and Heard counties who are interested in creating a community garden can apply online. Proposals for various types of community gardens will be considered, including:
- Allotment Gardens: the garden is divided into individual plots which community members adopt or rent. Members can grow their own fruits and vegetables.
- Cooperative Gardens: Members work as a team to grow one large garden.
- Youth Gardens
- Therapeutic Gardens
- Educational Gardens
- Gardens to grow produce for food pantries
Applications will be accepted until Friday, Feb. 28, at 5 p.m. Gardens will be built, installed and dedicated in April 2014.
Planting Seeds of Success
The gardens at Knox Park in Carrollton and Stockmar Park in Villa Rica have received an outpouring of community support and have helped generate more interest in growing local food and eating more fresh produce.
The first community garden was launched in April in Carrollton’s Knox Park, and the second came to life in late October at Stockmar Park adjacent to the Pine Mountain Gold Museum in Villa Rica.
The community garden at Knox Park featured a late fall planting of seasonal vegetables like cabbage, broccoli, turnips, onions and herbs. The summer harvest featured arugula, okra, tomatoes, beans, blueberries and more. Stockmar Park’s new community garden will feature ten planting beds located near Pine Mountain Gold Museum’s new scenic railway.
Get Healthy, Live Well’s gardens have brought a lot more than fresh, sustainably-grown fruits and vegetables to west Georgia. They also provide an opportunity for people to spend time outside together in a beautiful location close to home, they foster a sense of community and they help build a connection to the environment.
Community Gardens Bring People Together
“The gardens have brought a lot of people together — it’s very much about building community,” said Jacqueline Dost, co-chair of the community gardens task force and executive director of Keep Carroll Beautiful.
For example, the gardens at Knox Park have attracted a diverse cross section of residents, including college students, single mothers and members of a local garden club. A scholarship program helps low-income families adopt garden plots.
“The community garden really brings together people from all walks of life,” said Jillian Walker, special projects coordinator at Tanner Health System and co-chair of the community garden task force. Many people in west Georgia grew up with parents or grandparents who gardened, and they are now embracing the community garden concept, Walker said.
“It’s a great solution for people who live in apartments, dorms or houses with small yards,” Walker explains.
Learning and Growing
“Some of our gardeners had never gardened before, so the education aspect of gardening is very important,” Dost said. “We want folks to understand that in Georgia, you can garden all year round, and there’s a way to preserve and maintain your garden.”
Carroll County Master Gardener extension volunteers have played a key role in education. They have taught the people who adopted garden plots about weeding and thinning, what to plant for each season, how to harvest, how to prepare the garden for winter and much more.
“There has been a lot of fun and a lot of learning,” said Cherrie Glover, president of Carroll County Master Gardeners. “It’s been an awesome experience to work with the community gardens.”
Another important part of education is cooking. One garden event featured a cooking demo by chefs from Tanner Health System, who taught people how to cook the vegetables and fruits they had harvested from the gardens.
Gardening with Little Hands
Garden education is not just for adults. Volunteers from Incredible Edible Carrollton organized children’s activities at the Knox Park garden events. On each of the work days at the garden, they included special garden-related crafts and hands-on activities to engage the children while adults worked on their plots.
At Knox Park, kids made stepping stones around the gardens, constructed a water wall and even built musical instruments out of recycled materials. At Stockmar Park, student volunteers from the University of West Georgia helped children make flowerpots out of newspaper. Each child planted a cabbage seed to take home. Children also designed garden signs for the plots at Stockmar Park.
Teaching kids about growing food is critical, says Dost, who grew up gardening and also taught her sons to garden when they were young children. One of her sons now works on an organic farm.
“It’s vital to have kids involved because it helps them understand where food comes from and the importance of growing their own food,” Dost said. “Plus it’s fun for them, and they don’t think of it as work.”
In an era of fast food and hectic schedules, community gardens provide an opportunity for kids to learn about healthy food. Kids who learn to grow vegetables and fruits are often more likely to enjoy eating them.
“If the garden makes one kid say, ‘Mom, I want to eat radishes or green beans for dinner,’ then we have done our job,” Walker said.
The gardens have been a successful collaboration among many local organizations and individuals, say organizers. Tanner Health System’s Get Healthy, Live Well initiative, Keep Carroll Beautiful, Carroll County Master Gardeners, Incredible Edible Carrollton, City of Carrolton, City of Villa Rica, Home Depot Carrollton and Home Depot Villa Rica have all contributed to various stages of the gardens project.
For example, nearly 100 people attended the kick-off event at Stockmar Park on Oct. 22, 2013 hosted by Tanner Health System’s Get Healthy, Live Well initiative and its community partners Keep Carroll Beautiful, the City of Villa Rica, Pine Mountain Gold Museum, Walmart.com, The Home Depot Villa Rica and Carroll County Master Gardeners.
To learn more about west Georgia’s community gardens, visit www.GetHealthyLiveWell.org. Garden plot adoption forms and scholarship applications can also be downloaded on the site. For additional information, contact Jillian Walker at 770.836.9202 or firstname.lastname@example.org.