Taking Root: Community gardens provide nourishment for the hungry
by Marie Nesmith
Jun 23, 2013 | 1961 views | 0 0 comments | 125 125 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Community Gardens
Jeff Rhodes tills a row at Heritage Baptist Church’s community garden. Started in late February, the garden consists of about 15 rows of vegetables and flowers behind the church on Douthit Ferry Road in Cartersville. SKIP BUTLER/The Daily Tribune News
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For Jeff Rhodes, shepherding Heritage Baptist Church’s community garden is a rewarding experience that already is starting to bear fruit.

Previously a hayfield, the 100-foot-by-40-foot area behind the Cartersville church has been transformed into a vegetable garden, with tomatoes, corn, peppers, okra, cucumbers, squash, green beans, peas and potatoes taking root. Started in late February, the outreach project at 1070 Douthit Ferry Road is maintained by Heritage Baptist’s congregation, with either individuals or Sunday school classes planting and harvesting selected rows.

“The idea came about, I guess, back in the wintertime through a friend of a friend [who had] shared some news about a similar type project that was going on in South Carolina where a church was doing a community garden on their property,” Rhodes said. “Some of the people at our church thought that was a great idea and that we could do that here. We’ve got the land and we’ve got the expertise and it would be a good thing to do here.

“There are a number of purposes [for the garden]. The primary and most obvious purpose is to provide some fresh vegetables to some of the feed the hungry-type organizations in the community and to just generally share some of the product with people that need it. That’s the primary purpose. The secondary purpose is to work together and perform some work for a good cause and to do it together within the church family.”

With gardening being in his genes, Rhodes said he is delighted to have the opportunity to share his green thumb knowledge with others for a worthy cause.

“Our family’s always had a garden,” he said. “My granddad was always big into it, really enjoyed the work, really enjoyed seeing something grow and tending to something. And he always enjoyed sharing what he produced [because] he always produced a lot more than he could ever use for himself. … So it’s something that, I guess, I picked up from him.

“It’s something that I wanted to share with people in our church, to share that kind of fellowship with them and it’s been good. It lets us get to know people that we ordinarily wouldn’t socialize with probably just because they’re in a different age group or a different social group. It kind of brings people together in that way.”

While Heritage Baptist prepares to harvest its first crop, the Good Neighbor Homeless Shelter is revitalizing its gardening efforts.

“[When I joined the shelter] I knew that we had ample space to look at gardening as a way to not only supplement food here at the shelter but allow guests to be involved in gardening and get a new type of volunteers to come out — people who might be interested in participating in the garden who might not connect to any other parts of our work,” said Jessica Mitcham, executive director of the Good Neighbor Homeless Shelter. “So I got in touch with Sheri Henshaw at the Environmental Programs with the county. So she and I applied for a grant to Keep America Beautiful and got a $2,000 grant the first summer [in 2011] to put the garden in and to create some sustainable methods for the garden, [such as] water capturing [and] different things that would be long-term sustainable in the garden.

“That year the [Bartow County] Master Gardeners were really involved in helping us maintain the garden, plant seeds, harvest, keep the garden in good condition. Last year, we took a year off and the garden did not happen. So it’s kind of been revived this summer. Don [Longhurst] … knew that we had been interested in gardening and would love to keep that going. … So Don has been out and bringing friends with him to bring the garden back to life.”

Since forming in 1996, the Good Neighbor has served more than 4,600 people. On average, the 4,600-square-foot facility that was built in 2001 assists nearly 400 individuals per year. While they are housed, Good Neighbor’s guests are required to find a job within four weeks, and the shelter’s staff helps them establish savings, focus on problem-solving skills and chart out future housing options.

Along with providing fresh fruits and vegetables for the Cartersville nonprofit’s guests, Dr. Don Longhurst believes other organizations also can benefit if their harvest is abundant. In the upcoming months, the garden is expected to yield tomatoes, snow peas, cucumber, okra, yellow squash, zucchini, cantaloupe and pumpkins. Continuing their support of Good Neighbor’s gardening project, the Master Gardeners also donated plants for this year’s offering, Longhurst said.

“Whatever comes out of it can be given to the food pantry or it can go to, [for example] I attend First Presbyterian and we do a Friendship Table on Tuesdays,” Longhurst said. “[We could] distribute fresh produce to the people who come through there after they’ve eaten and gotten their meal. What they can’t use at these places, whether it be at a church or a shelter or what have you, the rest we’re going to take it to the Farmer’s Market down there at [Founders Oak Park] and sell what we can that comes out of the garden. And whatever money we raise out of that we’ll return back into the garden as well as a portion of that — which we haven’t decided what because we don’t know how much it’s actually going to make — gets returned directly to the shelter.

“... My long-term vision is to turn that whole section in the back on the side of the building into raised gardens, fruit trees, blueberries, a year-round garden that can produce winter crops as well as summer crops and spring crops. ... We’re just hoping that we can produce in abundance for those people who don’t have it.”