By MARINA WATERS
The sun is out in full force, summer’s around the corner and now, you can flex your green thumb at a local community garden.
Even if you aren’t talented in growing your own fruits or vegetables, the folks at the Garden of Hope and the Jonesborough Community Garden can help with that.
The Garden of Hope first launched two years ago and is a grow-your-own community garden put on by West Hill Baptist Church in Jonesborough. When Pastor Daniel Shrader of West Hill Baptist and the members of the church saw the untouched back yard of their church, they saw the opportunity to grow fruits and vegetables, but mostly, they also saw the opportunity to grow a community.
“When I first came to the church two and a half years ago, we were talking about, ‘How do we become a blessing to our community? How do we simply look outside our walls and be good neighbors and bless our neighbors?’ So we were looking at what we had and we have a beautiful piece of property in a great location,” Shrader said. “A huge chunk of it wasn’t in use. It was just a field back there. So we reclaimed that and we as a church decided to put in a community garden.
“In particular, we wanted to put in a ‘grown-your-own’ community garden. People have an investment of their own time, their own energy and they’re learning. They have the opportunity to grow what they want with help and guidance so that they succeed.”
Now, after garnering the help of those at the church as well as some outside help through local businesses, the Garden of Hope houses 90 raised beds for the community and has grown from seven to 12 families, who are allowed up to four plots, depending on gardening experience.
“Each family gets between two and four raised beds depending on their need and skill level,” Shrader said. “Four is too many if you’re a brand newbie, but one of the ladies is a master gardener and can handle four.
“We are growing in a communal way in the sense that we’re all sharing space, but we all have our individual plots. As a church sponsor, I in particular supply the knowledge they need to help people through the season. So they’re not on their own.”
But this year, they’re ready to reach out even more; Shrader said the Garden of Hope is now offering a high school program over the summer where students can sign up and grow their fruits and vegetables right here in Jonesborough.
“We are launching a program for high school kids,” Shrader said. “That will start the week after school ends and is called The Giving Garden, where high school students will have their own plots. There’s plenty of room for high school students to sign up and grow their own as well. That way, if mom and dad aren’t particularly interested, (the students) can do this.”
Shrader also said there is plenty of room for anyone interested. There is no cost involved with the Garden of Hope — all it takes is a little time and interest. To join the Garden of Hope, Shrader said those interested should email [email protected] or call (252)916-6813.
And though the group is dedicated to assisting with planting, Shrader said growing a sense of community is at the heart of the project.
“Growing food, growing faith and growing community are kind of our three anchors. So when people are out there rubbing elbows and talking, they’re building friendships, building relationships that go way beyond the garden,” Shrader said. “And we live in a seemingly busy life and society, and a garden gives us a place to slow down and it gives us an area of common interests. It also creates opportunity for conversation. And ultimately, conversation is the heart of community.”
The community gardens in Jonesborough don’t stop at West Hills; Tennessee’s oldest town also offers the Jonesborough Community Garden, located at 511 Hillrise Drive in Jonesborough.
The Jonesborough Community Garden has also been in operation for the past two years and offers a way for those within town to experience a little dirt in their hands or grow something for the good of the local food pantry.
“A lot of times community gardens, traditionally, are for people who don’t have access to green space to grow their own vegetables,” Parks and Recreation Director Rachel Conger said. “What we were looking at along with that is fulfilling needs for our food pantry here in Jonesborough.
“What we’ve done is we’ve got beds available for people to grow their own vegetables, but then, if they are just looking to do a little community service and fill the needs of the food pantry, then we also have beds available for them for that as well.”
The Jonesborough Community Garden also offers help provided by a local gardening club who meets every Tuesday from 4:30 to 6 p.m. each week. Though summer is nearly upon us, Conger said there is still plenty of space and time for anyone interested in growing their own fruits and vegetables. Conger said that those who are interested are welcome to stop by during those above times or call (423)791-3869.
Conger added that though the garden serves as a space to plant and to volunteer time to a local effort, it’s also an opportunity to learn, enjoy the outdoors and get back to community giving.
“It’s a recreation for a lot of people,” Conger said. “It’s a stress relief, it’s a great way to get exercise. We’ve also had people who are interested in teaching their children or their grandchildren how to garden so this is another cool way to do it. Not only to show them how to start something from a little plant and reap the rewards of the rewards of it, but also the aspect of giving that to the community and giving things to the food pantry as well.”