HARVIN COLUMN: Community gardens bring us together
Today is the last frost day in our area if you read the Farmers' Almanac. That means it's time for warm weather vegetables to go in now -- tomatoes, cucumbers, squash and corn -- those special tastes of summer.
In our James Island neighborhood, the garden club has a sign looking for more members to tend the entrance and our wonderful trees, but that started me thinking about community vegetable gardens and how important they have become, especially in the recession.
A plot of land where people share responsibility for raising their own food is a great way to bring a community together. Pulling weeds with your next-door neighbor can bring out a grimace and a smile, and kids learn that you don't have to go to the grocery store to buy a tomato.
The Charleston Parks Conservancy had a meeting last weekend with a community in West Ashley, where they are looking for involvement with plans to build not only a community garden but eventually a full-fledged urban horticultural center on 2.7 acres at Sycamore and Magnolia roads.
While the center may be years away, Jim Martin, executive director of the conservancy, said there were plenty of ideas from those who attended. They wanted raised beds, vegetable gardens, composting bins, irrigation and a place for gardeners to teach those who are unfamiliar with the whole process. They also wanted a place where children with special needs could come and enjoy the activity.
A design firm will lay out the area, and plans are for a fall garden if the necessary funds can be raised, Martin said.
"We want to show people what it takes to get food to your table. It's a long process, and it helps to show people how important that process is to us."
Martin has traveled extensively and has seen what other cities are doing with their gardens, and he hopes to translate those ideas here.
He already has helped with the Elliottborough Park that went vertical last year with the help of Clemson architecture students. They figured out how to screen the garden from the traffic and add more gardening space to a small plot of land.
Other efforts have succeeded, too. Doctors at St. James-Santee Family Health Center in McClellanville were spending a lot of time telling patients that they needed to eat healthier, but the nearest grocery store was 30 miles away. So last year, the clinic started a community garden behind the facility. It took about $300 in seed money to get it going.
Clay Hampton was presented with an award from the Concerned Citizens of the Peninsula/LowCountry, thanking him for the work he did last year in his North Charleston community. Hampton maintained a garden off Spruill Avenue with the help of neighborhood children.
Amy Dabbs, Clemson Extension agent for horticulture for the tri-county area, thanked volunteers during the last Day of Caring at the Felix Pinckney and Miner Crosby community centers in North Charleston.
And volunteers and Clemson Extension Master Gardeners broke ground at the same time for a community garden envisioned by North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey.
While the gardens take work and commitment to start, they can be sustained by lots of helping hands. Martin says that he usually expects a garden will serve people who live within a 10-minute walk.
The old schoolyard in Riverland Terrace comes to mind now. It seems like it might make a great place for a community garden.
And the Charleston Parks Conservancy will offer help to anyone who wants to start a community garden. We even have some gardeners with experience with our soil, right at home -- thanks to all those ladies in the garden club.
Reach Stephanie Harvin at firstname.lastname@example.org or 937-5557.