Homecoming and NC Community Gardens

This past week, I made a trip up to North Carolina to my alma mater, Warren Wilson College for homecoming with two friends, fellow alums. Warren Wilson is a work college, which means that all students on campus have a 15-hour-per-week job. Most of the routine maintenance and tasks are performed by students. For example, there's a plumbing crew, a library crew, cafeteria (dish-washing) crew, etc. And, as there is a working farm and a three-acre garden on campus-- both which supply food to the dinning halls-- there are farm and garden student crews as well. I actually didn't work on either. Instead I spent two years on Electric and two years on Landscaping. As part of my duties on Landscaping, I managed an edible landscape around a student dorm.

The extended weekend was a great chance to catch up with friends, professors and old crew-bosses. I shared the "dollars and cents" of Tallahassee Food Gardens with four friends who are investigating the possibilities of food gardening ventures as post-graduation plans. My old Sustainable Agriculture professor and I talked about soil, worms, chickens, cover crops, bio-char, and church community gardens. With my old Landscaping supervisor, Tom "Lam" --as he's affectionately known because nobody seems able to pronounce his real name (LaMuraglia)-- I conversed about manures and granite dust as soil amendments.

And the food! With grass-fed beef in the cafeteria, garden-fresh greens on the salad bar, and a dorm that has an edible landscape, Warren Wilson has developed quite a food culture. In other words, much of the socializing takes place around food: growing, picking, preparing and eating it. And did we ever eat. Root vegetable stir fry. Fresh eggs with chives grown just outside. Oatmeal with fresh milk. Homemade donuts. Pumpkin. Greens. Fresh bread. Fried Okra. Bacon....

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On Friday last week, I stopped in at the Black Mountain Community Garden, which, I learned, has three main objectives. First, it provides a place where families in the Swanannoa Valley can grow vegetables for their own use. Second, with the help of volunteers, the garden supplies fresh vegetables for low income families. And third, they seek to teach folks about how to grow and and the value of sharing food.

The bulk of the food grown by volunteers is distributed through Swanannoa Valley Christian Ministries and The Welcome Table, an open community meal prepared at Swannanoa Methodist Church for anyone who shows up-- whether or not they can pay.

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As a side trip, on the way back to Tallahassee, a friend and I stopped in at Anathoth Community Garden in Cedar Grove, NC-- near Durham. The garden came into being in the outwash of a murder just up the road. The white and black pastors and churches came together for a prayer vigil. A black lady had a dream that she ought to donate five acres of her land to the greater community. A white man had visions of good food, sustainable agricultural practices, a vibrant and gathered community, and a pastor championed the cause. Out of the wash emerged Anathoth Garden.

With a grant from Duke and the ongoing support of a Methodist church, Anathoth is a managed community garden whereat people pay $5 a year and commit to work at least two hours per week. In exchange, they go home with an arm full of whatever is ripe and ready whenever they stop by.

The name Anathoth comes from the book of Jeremiah. Just before the predicted onslaught of the coming Babylonian invasion, God tells Jeremiah to purchase and settle a piece of land in a place called Anathoth. Similarly, in the face of racial divisions, murder, environmental degradation, and unhealthy food, the community of Cedar Grove chose to garden and share food together.

Twice a week, the garden hosts a community meal full of garden-ripe produce.

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All these conversations about and visits to church related community gardens has me thinking of our potential here in Tallahassee. The bounty of food that could be grown in church gardens brings cornucopia to mind. So, if you have ideas about how I (how we) could encourage, facilitate, organize, and/or plant church community gardens, please share. Or, if you're dreaming about starting such a garden at your church and want someone with whom to brainstorm or someone to help you with grunt work, let me know.

...because I am still dreaming of the day when Tallahassee can feed itself, when everyone here can go to bed nutritionally satiated without worry of where their next weeks' of food will come from...