Community garden plots now available for spring plantin

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First United Methodist Church in downtown Franklin have been making garden plots available for many years. Since 2013, the church has donated thousands of pounds of produce to CareNet. Photos by Diane Peltz

Diane Peltz – Contributing Writer

During World War I, Victory Gardens were planted by families on the homefront to help augment the food supply. Planting Victory Gardens helped make sure that there was enough food for soldiers fighting around the world and for the families left at home. As the U.S. continues to battle the COVID-19 pandemic, many families are finding themselves short on food and long on time. 

Due to social distancing restrictions and the forced closure of many businesses, many folks lack the resources normally available for them to feed their families. Food banks have stepped up to offer help and many social service agencies are offering free food also, but another way to feed families is to grow it yourself. For those without a place of their own to plant, some communities, churches and organizations offer plots to rent.

Community gardens 

The community garden in Otto is located behind the Old School Knife Works. Gardeners may build their own plots on the property with the cinder blocks that have been made available.

Community gardens are popping up all over Macon County, where folks can grow fresh vegetables and fruits. One such garden is located in Otto.  This community garden was established in the 2017 growing season, and is free to any resident of the Otto Community. The garden is a service provided by the Otto Community Development Organization with ongoing support from the Otto Volunteer Fire Department, the Otto Garden Club, Old School Knife Works, Adams-Newcastle and Dryman’s  Chapel. The garden is located in the old Otto Elementary School track on Firehouse Road, behind the Knife Works.  This garden can help families obtain fresh produce with a little hard work, and could help feed families that are struggling.

The rules for this garden follow the rules for the Macon County Community Garden and each gardener is required to sign off on the rules. Right now there are six beds with two still being available. An abundance of cinder blocks are available for anyone wishing to build another bed, perhaps to accommodate larger fruits such as melons but would require quite a bit of effort and more dirt.  Gardeners are asked that any extra food that they don’t need be shared with neighbors or the local food pantry. Last year the garden produced more than 120 lbs. of food that was donated to neighbors in need. Anyone interested in a garden bed can contact Suzanne Mandler at (828)369-6302 for information.

In addition to Otto’s community garden, another is located behind the old Cowee School off Bryson City Rd, at 51 Cowee School Drive, in  Franklin.

Cowee School Arts and Heritage Center started a community garden about six years ago with 10 beds available for rent to friends and neighbors who want to grow their own food.

The Cowee School Arts and Heritage Center built the garden about six years ago with money donated by the Annie Dee Leatherman Smith family. Smith was a pioneer in conservation in Macon County, especially in the Cowee area. The funds were used for the construction of the garden boxes and soil. Ed Haight, a local engineer, volunteered his services in designing and, along with volunteers, constructing the boxes. Agriculture students from Franklin High volunteered as well. 

Ten raised boxes were built on the property. The boxes are rented yearly for $25 per bed.The cost of refilling them with soil can be deducted from the fee. Users can grow fruits and vegetables for the entire year, both warm and cold season crops. Users are free to grow what they choose. The use of chemicals is confined to the user’s box and for sprays, used only on non-windy days. Gardeners are not required to donate any of their harvest. 

Several beds are still available at this time. For information on renting a bed at the Cowee School you can contact Susan Ervin, one of their board members, at (828)524-8369 or email susanervin0213@gmail.com.

First United Methodist Church (FUMC) shares a rich history regarding their community garden.

The Share and Serve Garden was a direct result of  the FUMC  vision in February 2013. Through the visioning process, hunger was determined to be a need upon which FUMC could have an impact.  One of five new initiatives from the 2013 visioning was a community garden.  The original concept was a teaching garden, somewhere that CareNet clients or others in need could come and learn to grow their own food. What was then the Blaine House (now playground), was provided for this project. Over the spring and summer of 2013, the area was prepped and divided into six plots.  A Boy Scout troop was key in the first year, members of which went and picked up rocks every week and turned over the compost bins to provide nutrients for the soil.

In the year the garden was established, members of the garden group planted all six plots with a variety of vegetables in hopes of turning one over to a person of need.  All vegetables went to CareNet if they did not have anyone to turn the plot over to. They had no participants the first year.  Nearly 800 lbs. of produce was donated to CareNet.

By the next year in 2014, it was determined that a learning garden was not going to produce a large amount of produce so to provide a service while the learning garden gained momentum, they added a second garden site (below the Hospice House) to only grow four items: corn, tomatoes, beans, and sweet potatoes. In order to create more interest in the garden they created marketing brochures, and created a Facebook page.  They did not subdivide the Share and Serve Garden the second year and donated  2,892 lbs. of produce to CareNet.

In 2015, no real changes were made to the plan.  Several members from outside the church created a Garden Committee, with 2,525 lbs. donated to CareNet.

In 2016, FUMC was awarded the Duke Endowment Grant, raised beds were built, and workshops began, along with an intern program through Franklin High School. In 2017, the garden committee began leasing raised beds. The fee was $25 per bed, which helped cover the cost of materials and maintenance.  These beds are still being leased and several are still available for planting. The garden follows the same rules as other community gardens and asks bed owners to donate part of their crop, 10 percent,  to those who want one. To lease one of the FUMC garden beds, contact Laura Gamble at laura_jean85@yahoo.com 

The Macon County community garden, which is run by the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Office, is closed for the time being, due to government restrictions stemming from the pandemic. The garden is located behind the Southwestern Community College Annex, across from the public library. The community garden has grown from 16 to 24 garden spaces since its beginning. Spaces are 500 square feet each and are tilled. Gardeners must supply their own fertilizer, seeds and plants and agree to abide by garden regulations, which all community gardens have adopted. A charge of $25 per garden spot is assessed. It is requested that a portion of each gardener’s produce be donated to Macon County CareNet. In the past several years, the community garden has provided a substantial amount of fresh vegetables to Care Net for distribution to those in need. For more information regarding an opening date and bed availability, call North Carolina Cooperative Extension, Macon Center, at (828)349-2046. Once government restrictions are eased, the garden will be available to those who might be interested in obtaining a bed.

Food for thought, so to speak

Since Macon County has several community gardens in the area, folks can choose a spot that is closest to their home or work. Tasks involved for growing your own food includes sowing plants or seeds, watering, weeding, fertilizing, pruning and finally reaping the rewards. When thinking about designing your garden consider what food your family will want or need the most. Some folks plant just one crop and others choose a variety of fruits and vegetables. A single tomato plant can produce 200 tomatoes in a season. The North Carolina Cooperative Extension website offers a variety of resources to help in your garden journey.

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