A community garden brings people together
Residents find a feeling of neighborliness as they tend to communal vegetable plots.
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The plots seem to reflect gardeners' personalities, as well as preferences. One is all tomatoes, another nothing but cabbage. One has neat rows of staked beans, and the next has wild patches of squash.Skip to next paragraph
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Smells float by, the rot of compost giving way to the strong scent of basil.
Ezekiel, the teen from Burundi, doesn't know all his fellow gardeners' names, he said, but when he sees them, he knows who goes with each plot.
"Everyone's been really, really friendly," Ms. Pope said. People share their crops willingly.
That sharing is part of the social nature of it. "It really builds relationships," said Ms. Padgett, whose son plans to build a new shed and sitting area for his Eagle Scout project.
People are saving money, too. Powell said he and his wife cut their food bill to $20 per week for several months last year.
The garden has also sparked more involvement in the neighborhood.
Padgett said every gardener in Powell's back yard last year has gone on to other neighborhood involvement. One man is head of the neighborhood watch now. Others joined the neighborhood forum.
"We're trying to bring about some positive changes so people want to live in Southeast," Padgett said. "We need people to feel proud of where they live."
Community gardens date to the late 19th century, according to Betsy Johnson of the American Community Gardening Association, but it wasn't until the 1970s that benefits such as community-building and crime reduction were recognized and touted as reasons to create gardens.
In recent years, Ms. Johnson said, community gardens have been increasingly driven by governments and agencies.
"Putting a shovel in the ground and planting plants is the easiest part of starting a community garden," she said. But the garden won't be sustainable if it's not born of a desire in the community.
Roanoke's community-driven effort has caught the interest of government. The garden association recently won a $22,000 Community Development Block Grant to establish a community garden in the Hurt Park neighborhood, with an option for an additional $14,000 to buy land if necessary.
Powell said the money will go for a water system, raised beds for the elderly and people with disabilities, tools, fencing, and other amenities. The garden also will have a youth element in conjunction with the West End Center and the Virginia Cooperative Extension.
Powell has identified land for a garden in Wasena and is talking with the Vinton Town Council about a garden there, too.
Growing your own food seems catching.
"I can't imagine not having a garden now," Pope said. "I wouldn't ever go to the store and buy a tomato again."
You may also want to visit Gardening With the Monitor on Flickr. If you join the group (it’s free), you can upload your garden photos — and possibly win a prize. Deadline is Aug. 11. Join the discussions and get answers to your gardening questions.