Community Gardens

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Love home-grown tomatoes, but lack sun in your yard? Consider joining a community garden

Growing your own fruits and vegetables is a great way to get outside, exercise, and increase your access to fresh produce.

Planting garlic

Gardeners David Horn and Brad Indicott plant garlic in a shared bed at Unity Park and Community Gardens

It can save money on food expenses, especially if your diet includes lots of fruits and vegetables already. But, we do not all have the ability to garden in our backyards. Be it a rental situation, living in an apartment, or lack of sunshine, not all sites are good for growing fruits and vegetables. If you are itching to grow your own produce but lack the right situation, consider joining a community garden.

Community gardens are places where individuals join together to garden. Individuals may manage their own plots, or gardeners may collectively manage beds and share in the harvest. Community gardens vary by mission and organizational structure. Some are at schools and have a goal of education, some are faith-based, and others are community-building or entrepreneurial in nature.

Community gardens are a practical choice for those with limited ability to garden at home, but they offer other benefits as well. By gardening in a collective space, you share resources and often have access to specialized tools to enhance your practice.

Unity Park and Community Gardens in Lenoir has raised beds for rent, a walking trail, and a small orchard.

Unity Park and Community Gardens in Lenoir has raised beds for rent, a walking trail, and a small orchard.

You share knowledge with others, and you may build friendships with like-minded people. If the gardens have individual plots, these are often filled with high quality soil, which may be superior to the soil in your yard. Some gardens have collective beds for crops that require larger amounts of room, such as corn, or for perennials such berries or asparagus.

Community gardening has a long history in the United States. The first documented community garden in the U.S. colonies was established in 1759 by Moravian immigrants at Bethabara community in present-day Winston-Salem, NC. Community gardens in the U.S. have played a role in food production during times of need. They have also been a way to utilize vacant urban spaces and have provided educational venues. During the economic recession of the 1890s, community gardens were created in Detroit’s vacant urban lots so that residents who lost jobs could produce food for themselves. In the early 1900s, urban reformists promoted school gardens, particularly in lower class and immigrant neighborhoods so that children could be connected to nature and learn through gardening. “Wartime Gardens” were built during World War I in efforts to produce food for those at home while commercial farms produced for soldiers. This also freed up transportation systems for military use. The Federal Bureau of Education’s United States Student Garden Army program promoted school gardens and encouraged students to start gardens at their homes. There were an estimated 5.2 million new gardens planted during World War I. During the Great Depression, “Thrift Gardens” were gardens designed to meet immediate food needs during that time. At the start of World War II, the U.S. Government did not promote community gardening as officials believed commercial agriculture was a more efficient way to grow food. However, the government changed its tune and supported the well-known “Victory Gardens” because of their ability to boost morale and health. In 1944, an estimated 40% of vegetables consumed domestically were grown in Victory Gardens.

The suburbanization that followed WW II led to a decline in interest in growing food, and commercial agriculture took off following the advances in agricultural chemistry and plant breeding that occurred in the mid-1900s. However, community gardens have remained popular and productive. Be it the environmental movements of the 1960s and 1970s or the current back-to-the-land trends, growing your own food remains popular as a means of self-sufficiency. For some, it is an opportunity for income generation where jobs are not available. In 2015, the city of Winston-Salem adopted an urban agriculture ordinance to promote agriculture as a means of income generation for citizens within the city limits.

Gardener Andrew Windham clears a cover crop off of a raised bed in preparation for spring planting.

Gardener Andrew Windham clears a cover crop off of a raised bed in preparation for spring planting.

Lenoir’s community gardens began in 2009 with the Beall St. Garden, located adjacent to Mt. Pilgrim Baptist Church. This garden has not been heavily used lately, but a group from First United Methodist Church in Lenoir is recruiting gardeners from the neighborhood to grow there and will grow produce to donate to Caldwell County Yokefellow in unclaimed beds. In 2010, the City of Lenoir, Caldwell Community Gardens, and Caldwell Memorial Hospital received a FIT Communities grant to install the Unity Park and Community Gardens at the site of the old Singer Factory on College Ave SW in Lenoir. Both gardens have plots available for rent to individuals. Unity Park and Community Gardens also has community beds, orchard crops, and a walking trail. N.C. Cooperative Extension collaborates with gardeners to maintain demonstration beds and host educational events for the public.

Lenoir’s three community gardens have plots available for rent:

  • Unity Park and Community Gardens
    • Plot rentals, community plots, blueberries, small orchard, walking path
    • 1419 College Ave SW, Lenoir, NC
    • Contact: upcglnr@gmail.com or N.C. Cooperative Extension, 828-757-1290
  • Beall St. Garden
    • Plot rentals
    • Beall St. next to Mt. Pilgrim Baptist Church, Lenoir, NC
    • Contact: N.C. Cooperative Extension, 828-757-1290
  • Garden at United Presbyterian Church

There are also gardens at schools and churches throughout the county. If you are involved with other community gardens in Caldwell County, we at N.C. Cooperative Extension would enjoy hearing about your efforts.

In many community gardens, individuals manage their own plots but share tools and resources with other gardeners.

In many community gardens, individuals manage their own plots but share tools and resources with other gardeners.

Anyone interesting in organizing or managing a community garden should consult our N.C. Cooperative Extension Community Gardening portal for a collection of helpful resources: https://nccommunitygardens.ces.ncsu.edu/nccommunitygardens-community-gardening-resources/ The book “Collard Greens and Common Ground: A North Carolina Community Food Gardening Handbook” was co-authored by Dr. Lucy Bradley, urban horticulture specialist with NC State University, and is available free online or by purchase through this website.

There are opportunities to grow food for anyone who wants to do so. Don’t hold back- find a community garden that’s right for you and sign up today. For more information on gardening and upcoming gardening classes, contact the N.C. Cooperative Extension-Caldwell County Center at 828-757-1290 or visit our website, caldwell.ces.ncsu.edu.