Making the Community Garden grow

As published in the Chapel Hill Herald on Saturday, May 12th:

Carrboro Alderman Dan Coleman recently told me that his town is always looking for programs that combine a grassroots economy, community building and environmental stewardship.
The new Carrboro community garden, which will be at Martin Luther King Jr. Park for at least the next few years, certainly fits the bill. This project is a natural for a town that is already home to a cooperative grocery, a community radio station and a housing cooperative.

I recently chatted with Sammy Slade, April McGreger and Jay Hamm of the Carrboro Community Garden Coalition about their plans for this new town initiative.

Hamm told me that they plan to plant basic Southern vegetables, things like squash, tomatoes, okra, beans, peppers, melons and sweet potatoes. They're committed to making sure that nothing they grow goes to waste and will distribute their yield in a variety of ways, including distributing fresh fruits and vegetables to needy people in the community.

The importance of locally grown food is becoming increasingly important in this era of heightened environmental awareness. The shorter the distance food travels, the less carbon dioxide is generated in its transport. It's also fresher, cheaper and healthier. Slade thinks the garden will play a great role in "building community and combating global warming."

Collaborative gardening is certainly an activity that requires teamwork. Right now there are about 20 folks involved in Carrboro's community garden effort and it's increasing rapidly through word of mouth. McGreger said that many of the folks involved in this project had known each other before but have become much closer as they've worked together on the garden, and that the community-building aspect of it is as exciting as the growth of the food itself.

The group is planning to do a lot of its work on Saturday mornings but as of yet has no regular schedule. If you're interested in getting involved you can e-mail to be added to their electronic discussion group.

Hamm said that their vision is that the garden project will let people see that community gardens can be "abundant, beautiful and doable," and inspire similar smaller projects throughout the rest of the town, state and world. For instance, he'd like to see Carrboro move from this initial townwide garden to having small ones in each neighborhood all over the community, allowing folks to work in even smaller and locally oriented groups to produce food.

McGreger said another nice aspect of the process in getting the garden started has been the opportunity "to learn how to participate in direct democracy."

Many people involved had never worked with town staff and elected officials before, and they've found it to be a positive experience. All three spoke glowingly of the folks they've worked with in the Parks & Recreation Department as well as Public Works. Slade also made sure to say that while the entire Board of Aldermen has been supportive of their efforts, "Dan Coleman has been our main liaison from the town and the person who has kept us informed and worked to move the project forward."

Coleman told me that he first learned to garden in a community garden space shared by a dozen families, some experienced gardeners and some, like himself, newbies. Still very much a novice, he hopes that he can learn more by helping out at CCGC and expose his 6-year-old son to the benefits of community gardening.

This project just makes sense. They're using public space that otherwise might not be put to any formal use before construction of the park begins in a few years. It's going to produce fresh food for local residents who might not otherwise have access to it while providing other folks with fruits and vegetables that might in the absence of the garden have come on a truck from somewhere out of state.

Since local residents are raising their hands to do the work themselves, there's not anything coming out of the town budget to pay for it other than staff time -- a good thing in a year of tight budget times.

The benefits the community garden produces will indeed be far more than the investment Carrboro is putting in to make the program work.

As Jay Hamm said in summing it up, the project is literally "growing community." Kudos to both the folks in the Carrboro Community Garden Coalition for bringing this forward and to the elected officials and staff for the town of Carrboro for working together to make it happen. It's a great example of government functioning well, and one that can serve as an ideal model for other local communities.



This is a great idea. Kudos to the Town of Carrboro for agreeing to let folks put a garden in the park.

For a variety of reasons I chose to make this my final column for the Herald. I've really enjoyed writing it for the last year and appreciate the feedback everyone has given me.

I'll now use my blog as more of a day to day thing rather than a place to archive my columns so check it out!

Congrats on making the transition from columnist to blogger, Tom. Now they've lost both you and Fred Black in a month! That's quite a gap in local issues.

Make sure you keep cross-posting on OP. ;-)

Victory gardens - victory over global warming perhaps? Scroggs elementary has a large patch set aside for gardening and lately I've seen some people out there getting it ship-shape. But, no kids. My wife and some classmates from the Nutrition program at UNC were thinking about school-based gardens and using it as a hook into good nutrition. BTW, one of the great things that the paper version of the Carrboro Citizen was doing was printing the school menus, but I still think they should print the prison menu adjacent to it.

One factor Tom was not able to accommodate in his column is Orange County Partnership for Young Children. Their Healthy Kids Campaign will be establishing community gardens geared toward participation by young children. They are planning to use the space at MLK Jr Park as one of their locations.

Has anyone thought about expanding the community garden to Baldwin Park? It is closer to downtown Carrboro and Chapel Hill and might attract a number of folks who don't have yards of their own... plus the park is currently a bit underutilized.

The community garden is a great way to offer a means for people to grow plants. I think it is also applicable to those living in the newer housing developments where homeowner associations discourage residents from having gardens.

I would caution anyone who wants to claim this garden, in and of itself, will have any effect on CO2 levels and global climate change. It won't change the amount of produce transported to the grocery store and the intake of CO2 by these plants won't reduce atmospheric CO2 level to any significant amount. People will probably drive to the garden to maintain the plants, adding to CO2 levels (although, also in insignificant amounts).

It could have an impact on CO2 levels if it spawned a series of community gardens all over Orange County. This could represent some steps towards reducing CO2 levels but there are many, many more miles to travel until the goal is reached.

It does have an impact on the budget in that staff time is money. That effect is small compared to other demands on the budget. I think it comes down to how the town wants to invest its resources. The community garden appears to be a good investment for a part of the local community and can be the seed to initiate other measures in support of the local economy. That's its strength.

Greenbridge would like to donate fruit trees to this project. So as not to shade vegetables, trees could be placed on the north side of the garden. I have not seen the garden layout, but would be happy to discuss purchasing and helping plant these "Northside" fruit trees in honor of the neighborhood where we are building Greenbridge. We intend to do the same in the Northside Community Garden. Ruby -- perhaps you could help connect us to the folks involved in that undertaking.

TIm, thanks for providing an example for Council to live by...

I've asked the Town before if they plan to replace the equivalent amount of trees being removed from Lot #5 somewhere else (as the current Lot #5 design footprint radically reduces the foliage).

Got the same answer for that as I got on replacing the trees removed for the Church/Franklin St. signal light. Nothing.

Sure, some folks like to consider consistency a bit small-minded, but for a group of folks so "concerned" about CRED, mom-and-dad trimming the trees at home, etc. it's funny that they can't summon the commitment to replace, one for one, the trees their own projects are displacing.

Tim, I don't live in Northside anymore (sadly), and this is the first I've heard of that garden. Sounds great, though.

I met with Sammy Spade and spoke with Marty in Carrboro Planning and Brendon in Carrboro Parks and Recreation. We are meeting to discuss the layout of apples, peaches, and fig trees. No reason that carbon sequestration, beauty, and local food production can't co-exist. I agree that every development project in Orange County should replace the trees they remove. We intend to replace ours 2 for 1.


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