Sunday, June 17, 2012

Tennessee Valley Community Garden Association Public Tour of Gardens

      What a gorgeous day to tour some of the local community gardens in our area on Saturday ! We ran out of time before we could see all of the gardens. There was so much to see and talk about.
     The garden that wins the prize for best effect for a new garden is the Amos Garden off of Meridian St. The apartment manger Patricia read an article in the Huntsville Times about gardens and their effect on communities and was inspired to begin a Community garden at the AMOS Apartments at Winchester and Meridian St. Tired of seeing her tenants walk to the corner convenience store she decided to try to develop a garden in the middle of the complex.
     The vision came alive with the effort of Randall and other folks who live in the Apartment complex as well as several volunteers over the last 4 months. County Commissioner Harrison, Willie McCrary and Jeff Komara of Deep Roots have been instrumental in helping this project move forward so quickly. There are now 30 boxes on site. The layout of the garden is quite striking and the arrangement could work in other areas as well.
    As we parked, the first sight and most lasting impression was the children playing in the garden sand box set up in the garden proper. The children even did a bug hunt for us as we were trying to find a specific insect in the corn patch. The effects of the new garden are just beginning to take hold; Walter, a 3 year resident of the complex, told us “ The garden is beautiful to look at, it is unique and is to be found nowhere else in the city. The garden is bringing the apartment community together, we are watching out for each other more than ever.”
     Patricia sees economic development from the effort as well. Over time as the group's skills improve they want to sell food to local restaurants. It is important to remember for all of us that a new farmer, sub acre or larger isn't just a job but an enterprise. The opportunity for those who work hard and smart to grow themselves into a better life is available here and in other community gardens.
     One of Patricia's major goals is for people to want to live at her apartment complex not simply because of the low rent, but because of all the the facility offers it's residents. They want to excel at helping people help themselves.

     We started our tour this morning at the Howe Avenue Community Garden. Wow. If you want to see how prolific an organic vegetable garden can be, visit this garden soon. A core group of 8 folks led by Lee Ellenberg and Marion Moore and including Clint Patterson, Lisa Gardner, Lori Pence, Allison, and “J”.
      “J” is the old man here although he is young at heart. Being around the energy and enthusiasm of the twenty somethings invigorates “J”. Allison simply loves gardening, she lives in an apartment near the garden and this site provides her with the opportunity to grow enough food for her use, but to give to others and even the opportunity to sell at a farmers market if she and the other members choose too. They will certainly have surplus too sell.
     The Howe Garden is an excellent example of proper soil preparation with amendments such as leaf mold added in large quantities. The group has used cardboard to hold down weeds in the rows. Using fish emulsion and Worm Casting Tea made by the brew-master Clint, the garden is jumping with vibrant, pest and disease free plants loaded with food.

     Next we visited the Monte Sano Community Garden. K.T. Bothwell and her sister Maggie spearheaded this garden's jump start last year. K.T. and the garden group have done a text book job in acquiring access to the property and setting up a first class garden that contributes aesthetically to the community it serves. Monte Sano gardeners rent their box for the season and have “ownership” of that box as long as they take care of it. All gardeners are expected to work together to take care of the big chores such as hauling leaf mold and spreading wood chips. Miss Christine Donley has found that organic gardening is just as easy and productive as using conventional techniques.
     Christine particularly enjoys the camaraderie with the other ladies at the garden as they teach and help each other become better gardeners. Elsie enjoys trying new things if a particular plant doesn't work out it is OK just add a little compost try something else in it's place. Pat McMillion who does such a great job as the Herb lady at Burritt takes care of the herb box at the front of the garden which for the use of the community.

     Next stop was in Artisans Cove. The new farmers market was well attended by farmers such as Champion farms and Isom's (the peaches looked fantastic). The farmers market is a needed resource for those east of the mountain. Kristin is the farmers market manager and is working hard to create a viable thriving market for the Hampton Cove community.
      Marguerite McClintock the owner of Artisans Cove has a vision for the educational community garden. Marguerite wants children to learn how to grow food sustainably, using a variety of techniques from organic in-ground techniques to hydroponics and aquaponics as well. Bringing in the business aspect is important as well, teaching kids the value of work and it's rewards. Children will learn to grow food, prepare it for sale, and learn to set up and sell food from a direct market booth. Successful future Small Plot Intensive Farmers may one day grow from the seeds Marguerite is planting today.

     Across the street, literally, at Hampton Cove Middle School, hidden behind the North West corner of the building is an educational garden of amazing potential. Melissa Schneider has taken over the green house and the immediate surround of raised beds and is working hard to bring a productive garden to reality. Middle schoolers were able to grow cabbages and other plants this school year in the green house and the goal for 2012 -2013 is to have a crop with each season for a continual harvest. Melissa and school officials want the community and particularly parents to be involved as well. There are garden and landscape projects that need many hands to turn the effort into light work for all involved.

     Pecan Grove - If you have never had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Bill Thomas you should drive out to Pecan Grove Rd and see Bill and the community garden he is nurturing. If you live in the area and have a shaded yard or live in an apartment complex, or if you simply want to garden with a community of folks Bill has a spot of land with your name on it waiting.
     Alice Evans who started the Tennessee Valley Community Garden Associaion with other gardeners, has a fine garden coming on here. There is room for you and this group is a lot of fun, they also have some excellent technical advisers, including retired agriculture professors from Alabama A&M available to help you learn to contribute to your own food supply. Bill says “the time to start growing is now, learn what real food is all about. “
       After dropping off one of our party who had to go back to work we traveled over to UAH to see the community garden the students are growing near the maintenance headquarters. Claire Herdy found that today’s tour was very helpful in that several really good gardeners visited and gave excellent advice and growing tips to some of the student gardeners. Claire and the crew have a very nice garden growing in the middle of a Bermuda field. They are doing a great job of beating the demon weed back and have some beautiful produce growing on.
 They are about to be over run with tomatoes. Claire came up with idea with Marion from the Howe Ave. garden to have several tomato / produce canning days. Everyone bring their tomatoes and cans and pressure cookers and knock out some serious food preservation. If this is of interest to you you can leave a message on the TVCGA facebook page or call Alice Evans. There will be a TVCGA meeting open to the public June 25th at the extension office on Cook Ave. The meeting starts at 6 o’clock sharp.
     Regrettably we did not have time to visit the Asbury garden that Mary Lynn Botts and the Asbury church community are doing such a great job with in serving others through their garden. The tour hours were gone before we could visit the Legacy Elementary School Projecct Pond garden in Harvest or the city sponsored garden at Lewter park (that is just fabulous).

     Our last stop was at the CASA garden, probably the oldest continuous community garden in the state, certainly in this area. Everything was growing on and looked great. The CASA garden is unique in that all of the food is grown by volunteers and is given to home bound seniors in Madison county on a rotating basis. Karen Voelker, the queen of the garden, was giving the grand tour ( this is a BIG garden ) to visitors as we arrived after 3 o’clock. Karen enthusiasm and dedication to providing nutrition to those who need it most are what keeps the CASA garden improving year over year. If you would like to see what a masterpiece community garden looks like when it has matured, visit the CASA garden on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons or Saturdays from 8- 12. This is learn by doing experimental garden. Come learn about rotation and companion planting while you weed a row for the less fortunate.
     All of the gardens on the tour today want you to know where they are in your neighborhood. Several have open spots waiting for you to grow food for yourself and your family. Several gardens are totally volunteer run and supported and they need your help NOW. The summer harvest season is upon us, it can be very difficult to harvest and keep up with the regular garden chores. Consider committing to a garden for the summer, this summer.
     Thanks to all of the participating gardens in the 1st annual tour of Community gardens. The energy, enthusiasm, and talent among these folks is prodigious and contagious. The growth of gardening in all its manifestation has been exponential in this area over the last several years and will continue to grow in the future. If you want to learn more about gardening in your area check out the Tennessee Valley community gardens facebook page or try to attend the meeting on the 25th.

Well done, to all of the gardens, well done indeed!


  1. This was such a great event and I learned so much... I'm already looking forward to doing this again next year!