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Community gardening can be fun, educational

Jennifer Sprouse • May 25, 2012 at 8:25 AM

Who knew gardening with strangers could be so much fun?

Community gardens are becoming well-known fixtures throughout the United States and have even started popping up in various places around Johnson City, such as in the Tree Streets and behind the Interfaith Hospitality Network building.

Another community-based garden was started five years ago at the Carver Park and Recreation Center, 322 W. Watauga Ave., from an idea for a service project Sam Jones, a Harmony community native, had to complete for her 2004 Master Gardener class certification.

“They had a long list of projects to choose from, but they were all beautification projects. There were no vegetable gardens,” Jones said. “That was just at the time where prices started to rise and we were seeing some strangeness with energy and gasoline prices, and I thought that ... people need to learn how to grow food.”

A friend of Jones helped her make contact with former City Commissioner Marcy Walker who put together a meeting with people interested in setting up the area. Many people were instantly on board and made suggestions of good locations for the community garden, but there was just one problem.

“I went to all of the suggestions that were given to me and none of them had water,” she said.

Herb Greenlee, director of Carver Recreation Center, suggested to Jones the land behind Carver for the garden spot. The garden was first set up in an area where a pavillion next to Watauga Avenue now sits, and was relocated a few yards over after the first two years.

Because the garden was positioned directly behind the center, the garden was able to tap into Carver’s water supply.

“We are extremely blessed to have running water and it’s free,” Jones said. “Each of the plot owners here, they rent plots for $15 a year and water is included.”

The area set aside for the garden hosts 22 plots, ranging in size of 20-by-30 feet or 15-by-20 feet, for individuals, groups and families. Jones said the garden is mixed and made up of people from diverse backgrounds, including East Tennessee State University medical students and the Junior G’s, which is made up of kids in Carver’s after-school program.

Jones said each gardener must sign a yearly agreement that states the rules and the commitment they are entering into by purchasing the plot.

Rules include not letting the garden weeds in the plots get out of hand and attending two instructional gardening classes offered by Jones and her husband, Michael.

“This year for the first time in the agreement, we added that you must attend two,” she said. “We think that builds community and you can always learn something new. I want people to be successful, so I thought the classes were an important piece of this whole community thing.”

The classes are held the second Wednesday of every month from 6:30 to 8 p.m. and vary on topics depending on the month. She said in June they will give tips on integrated pest management and in August classes on how to can vegetables.

Jones said the garden is organic and pesticides, or any other chemicals, are not allowed. Smoking is also forbidden within the gates of the garden.

The most popular vegetable grown is tomatoes and the most unusual so far has been an artichoke plant that was left by a gardener from last year’s plot. The gardener who has since taken over the area has decided to keep the plant and plans to divvy it up among the other gardeners.

“He wanted to keep it and he promised us all to give us an artichoke, as well as give us a cutting from it so we can all plant artichokes,” she said.

Jones said donations of tools and supplies from the Keep Johnson City Beautiful team, as well as the help from the city of Johnson City and other Master Gardener friends of the Joneses has made this garden grow to what it is today.

While it was her intent to have an open garden lot for those involved to enjoy, the garden has been struck by vandalism and theft over the years, which led to the city-built fence and gate around its perimeter.

She said many times they would find people from the surrounding community in the garden, taking food from the plants because they thought it was a “community” garden, and the gardeners would walk in and find their vegetables smashed and plots trampled.

“I didn’t want people to feel excluded, but theft and vandalism became a really bad problem last year,” Jones said. “We just felt like the visual of locked gates says more than we could ever. No one can then come in and say, ‘I thought this was a community garden.’ ”

Along with a new gate, the group of gardeners also decided that changing the name from Carver Community Garden to Carver Peace Gardens would also help clarify to the public that the garden is owned, used and maintained privately.

While the gardeners bring in whatever they want to grow, Jones said certain plants have been donated.

“Johnson City has a really nice greenhouse. Brenda Bare is the greenhouse manager ... and the last two years has started a lot of tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers for us and she brings them just about planting time in flats, and we all just split them up,” she said.

Jones said she really likes the direction the garden has taken when it comes to community building and hopes that it will continue to grow in years to come.

“Before this garden, none of us knew one another,” she said. “That whole concept of building community and helping one another ... it’s a work in progress, but I have noticed it more this year than ever.”

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