Planting seeds

for community garden success

photo

Gaining Ground

If you ask Vonnie Truss, caretaker for the Glenwood Recreation Center garden, why she chooses to spend countless hours planning and planting for the community garden, chances are she will tell you that she “just loves playing in the dirt.”

The satisfaction of watching hard work come to fruition is a bonus, she says, but for Truss, one of the greatest rewards is teaching community members where their food comes from and the importance of eating fresh vegetables. “We had a pretty good garden, I think, for this year,” she says. “I was surprised because a lot of people said they had never seen an eggplant and were asking how to prepare them. People said how good they was and they would start buying them at the grocery store. They had no idea about okra either and they ate that, too.”

The benefits for community gardening are many – exercise, sustainable food, youth education, etc. – but the process for starting and successfully managing one can be enough to drive people away from the idea. Enter Crabtree Farms, a 15-year-old community garden that began out of a desire to bring urban sustainable agriculture to Chattanooga and now works to be a resource for the community when it comes to community gardening and eating local. “You can’t eat any more local than out of your backyard,” says Andrea Jaeger, programs coordinator at Crabtree Farms. “We want people to have good access to fresh food. We know that shopping and keeping your food budget low for some families is tricky, so they can learn to grow things in their backyard.”

Crabtree Farms offers a low-cost, day-long workshop each year that covers all the bases of starting and keeping a community garden, from garnering community support and funding to making raised beds and keeping bugs away. “We see the importance of community gardens and we want to make sure people have the resources to start one,” says Jaeger. “We want them to see success. If you see successes in the beginning, you’re more likely to stick with it.”

Although Truss has worked at the Glenwood Recreation Center garden for about five years, she had never taken a gardening class in her life before taking the community garden workshop at Crabtree Farms. “I’m learning quite a bit. I’m just used to going and throwing a plant in the ground and forgetting about it,” she says. “Everything I’ve planted was a flower and I didn’t have to worry too much, but the vegetables, you have to watch for bugs and things.

“I find that by having the different vegetables we have here, a lot of people are interested in what we are doing and people say, ‘I have a little bit of space, I can do that at my house.’ I think the community enjoys the garden.”

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