Lessons Learned and Report from Kanawha Community Garden Tour

November 19, 2014   Tags:

Note: This article was originally published November 2, 2011.

In October of 2011, the WV Food & Farm Coalition joined forces with the Kanawha Community Garden Association (KCGA), WVU Extension Service and West Virginia State University Extension Service to host a tour of five Charleston-area community gardens. The tour was geared towards other garden organizers from around the state, and 12 participants from five counties attended. Though all of the gardens we visited on the tour were “member gardens” of the KCGA, some had just broken ground the previous season while others had been in operation for five years. Each garden plays a different role in its community, from sharing food among gardeners to supplying food for a soup kitchen. The tour introduced participants to a wide range of community garden approaches — as well as to people who can serve as resources on garden projects.

The following is a summary of the information and “lessons learned” presented on the tour.

About the Kanawha Community Garden Association
The tour began at WVU Extension office in Kanawha County, where participants learned how that office helped launch KCGA after hearing requests for guidance from new and prospective community gardeners. The volunteer-run KCGA now hosts meetings for members of gardens, helps them share ideas and resources with each other, and organizes trainings and workshops in partnership with WVU Extension. KCGA has become pivotal in the area’s community garden efforts and serves as a model that other regions could replicate. Gardens from outside Kanawha County are also welcome to join the Association.

Contact: Kelly Straight, KCGA President (kstraight@suddenlink.net / (304) 768-4141); John Porter, WVU Extension Service (john.porter@mail.wvu.edu / (304) 720-9573) or visit http://kanawha.ext.wvu.edu/kcga.

Dunbar Community Gardens
This garden began in 2009 when Sharon Pearson and two 90-year-old neighbors petitioned the city for use of a vacant lot. Now, a small but dedicated group uses the space as a community garden to produce for themselves and to donate at the local food pantry. One high school student earns service hours by gardening and donating his produce. Challenges include involving more community members who feel ownership for the garden, publicizing the garden with signs, and gardening on compacted earth with waste buried underneath.

Contact: Sharon Pearson, jpsfp@suddenlink.net / (304) 768-0632

Rock Lake Community Garden
Now finishing its first season, this garden grew from the Rock Lake Community Center project on the site of an old quarry, community pool, and putt-putt golf course. The garden consists of tall raised beds, each with its own overhead trellis, organized using the “Square Foot Gardening” method (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Square_foot_gardening). Kelly Straight, one of the community center’s coordinators, performs much of the work, but in good weather several volunteers from the neighboring church help out. The church also provides a large portion of funding for the garden and community center. Kelly stressed the importance of reaching out to the community before starting the garden, to ensure the presence of a strong, invested base of volunteers.

The Rock Lake Community Garden’s vision is that gardeners will work in exchange for produce from the garden, and that the garden will promote healthy living in the community. The garden hosted a recent workshop for the Junior Master Gardeners program in partnership with West Virginia State University Extension ((http://jmgkids.us/; contact Melissa Hudson of WVSU for details at williaml@wvstateu.edu). This program provides an array of curricula that use gardening as a teaching tool for elementary and middle school aged youth. Rock Lake plans to host more workshops in the future.

Contact: Kelly Straight, kstraight@sudddenlink.net / (304) 768-4141

Harry’s Garden
This garden is maintained by local Master Gardeners and dedicated to Harry Wise. A founding member of the Kanawha Master Gardener Association, Harry passed away in 2007. This flower garden beautifies the entrance to Coonskin Park and includes a gazebo structure. Coonskin Park has provided a large portion of funding, and many of the flowers came from Harry’s own garden.

Contact: Randy Rader, (304) 766-2448; see photos at:http://kanawha.ext.wvu.edu/mastergardener/kcmga_photo_album/harry_s_garden_photos

Carroll Terrace Community Garden
Residents of Carroll Terrace, a low-income housing area in Charleston’s Historic District, maintain this garden, which has become something of a landmark in the area. The garden began when West Virginia State University Extension (WVSU) partnered with theAmerican Heart Association in 2005. They held an open meeting with Carroll Terrace residents to discuss the possibility of a garden. With generous grant funding and corporate sponsorship, the garden plan evolved into 40 small raised beds for individual growing, as well as a communal garden plot on each of the garden’s four corners. Several of the beds are wheel-chair accessible and each bed has its own water spigot installed for use with drip irrigation. One resident coordinates garden maintenance and sign-ups for new spots every year. The area is surrounded by a tall, but attractive, metal fence. Gardeners are encouraged to record their garden time and produce harvested in a log near the entrance to the garden area.

Melissa Stewart of WVSU regularly writes grants to keep the garden funded; she budgets $1,500-$2,000 each year to maintain it. The garden also hosts holiday events which draw in the community from Carroll Terrace and surrounding areas. Melissa emphasized that the garden has become a source of pride for the residents, and that they feel a strong sense of ownership.

Contact: Melissa Stewart, WV State University Extension, williaml@wvstateu.edu / (304) 532-1670

Manna Meal Community Garden
The Manna Meal Soup Kitchen has provided meals to the Charleston community since 1978, but in 2009 Myra Dolan and other volunteers began a garden to provide more fresh food for the kitchen. The garden is located outside of the city, on land made available at no cost by a landowner who had previously donated eggs to the kitchen. The garden produces thousands of pounds of food each year, enough to share with other shelters. A few grants, such as one from the Capitol Conservation District, provide funding, but the kitchen and garden rely primarily on individual donations and volunteers.

The garden is also 100% volunteer-run, and community involvement is strong — from Master Gardeners earning hours, church members (from a variety of churches), Boy Scouts, and other gardeners. To promote the program, Manna Meal recently held a bean-stringing event at Capitol Market where customers were invited to purchase and string local green beans for the soup kitchen. Manna Meal also harvests flowers from the garden and provides them to church members for a monetary donation of their choice (this raises more money than setting a specific price, says staff). These kinds of exchanges help build community support, draw in volunteers and raise money. Organizers recruit volunteers on a daily basis and maintain an email list to announce work days once or twice each week. Each work day draws 2-14 volunteers, on average. All volunteers much sign a waiver before working.

The garden has now established a governing structure, with a project director and coordinators for garden work, volunteers, harvesting, fundraising/outreach, and media. They have made effective use of free materials , including a borrowed tiller from the landowner, leaves from the Capitol grounds and a leaf shredder from the WV Division of Forestry. The tiller will not be available next season, so the gardeners are experimenting with lasagna gardening to build soft soil.

Contact: Myra Dolan at drmusicmom@suddenlink.net or Jean Simpson at jsmannameal@wirefire.com, or visithttp://www.mannameal.com.

Summary of Lessons Learned from the Tour
– Before starting a garden, think carefully about its purpose – is to donate food, share food, support self-sufficiency and healthy eating, or to beautify? This will help determine what strategies for volunteer engagement and fundraising will be most effective.
– Make sure that the community wants a garden (consider conducting a community survey).
– Ensure that the garden has a strong base of volunteers who can feel a sense of ownership for the garden and stay dedicated — even through the hot months!
– Remember those who can benefit from working in the gardening by earning service hours — including Master Gardeners, high school students, and Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts.
– Early in the garden’s development, a clear vision and (if possible) a visual depiction of the garden plan can help convince funders, sponsors and the community to support the project.
– A large amount of outside funding is not necessary to start a garden — sometimes the most valuable and difficult-to-obtain resource is volunteers.
– Don’t hesitate to ask for help (ex: Manna Meal asked for the donated land, leaves, and leaf shredder, and consistently recruits garden volunteers).
– Evaluate the quality of the land (shade, soil quality, slope, buried waste, location of water sources) before beginning a garden, and plan for how to overcome obstacles.
– Consider any possible restrictions on land-use that may be associated with ownership. Is the land owned by a local government entity that may be slow to respond to needs? Will the property owner have any special requirements regarding
– Explore partnerships with other groups and organizations to increase the use, productivity, and enjoyment of the garden.
– Try out ways to involve the surrounding community other than simply garden work, such as community events and parties or workshops.