Making the Community Garden grow
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 email@example.com 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.