Grow a Community Garden Project

With ingenuity, creativity, and a touch of grit, this small North Carolina town cultivated a community garden project to produce healthy food for neighbors in need.

  • The Lord's Acre giving garden is as beautiful as it is productive.
    Photo by Susan Sides
  • Community garden members put up a greenhouse to extend their season and grow even more cold-hardy crops, such as greens and carrots.
    Photo by Susan Sides
  • This bundle of produce is all in a days work at The Lord's Acre!
    Photo by Susan Sides
  • Gardeners at The Lord’s Acre have grown and given away more than 55 tons of food in eight seasons.
    Photo by Susan Sides

Several years ago, I was feeling frustrated. “There are so many problems,” I said to myself, “and there’s so much suffering in the world.” Worst of all, I felt that there was nothing I could do about it. Do you know that feeling? Even though I lived an environmentally conscientious life and donated money to worthy causes, I needed to take my own two hands and actually do something tactile to make a difference, no matter how small.

It was looking at my hands (well, the dirt on them, anyway) that spurred this thought: I know quite a bit about gardening — so why don’t I help start a community garden project in which people could grow food to give away? What could be a more tangible way to help others than growing fresh food for them?

Hunger is a significant problem. One in seven people in the United States relies on local food aid, and more than 14 percent live below the official poverty line. At least one in five children is at risk of hunger. Right where you live, people are going hungry. But food-aid agencies seldom share fresh, wholesome produce when it’s in season. Pretty much everything in food pantries comes in a can or a box. No wonder: Such items are inexpensive and they store well. Thinking of that industrially processed food, I only got more excited about my vision of growing fresh vegetables and giving them away. I knew my plan wouldn’t solve world hunger, but it would be something hands-on that would help right where I lived.

Digging In

When I asked folks in my town of Fairview, North Carolina, what they thought of a community giving garden, enthusiasm spread faster than bees on clover. A lot of people besides me wanted a down-to-earth way to help. Before long, our urban community garden had an advisory group, a great piece of borrowed land for growing the garden, scads of generous donations — from a port-a-potty to a truckload of composted manure — and scores of people eager to pull stones and plant seeds.

We named our community garden project The Lord’s Acre after a local Great Depression effort in which people gave away what they grew on an acre to help neighbors in need.

Now that our urban community garden is in its eighth growing season, I’m proud to say that our volunteers have grown and given away more than 55 tons of organic produce to neighbors in need. Our beautiful garden has even spawned spin-off efforts, such as a weekly community meal, garden classes, new home gardens, and a program in which interested folks can give or take excess produce. We quickly learned that in addition to produce, The Lord’s Acre grows community.

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