Community garden grows friendships

BUCKHANNON – There are more than fruits and vegetables growing in the Buckhannon Community Garden.

The fertile soil also has nurtured friendship, generosity and community, organizers said.

The idea sprouted about a year ago at a meeting of the community organization Create Buckhannon, member Buck Edwards said.

“This past winter, we started ramping it up and talking more seriously about it. We decided to go for it,” he said.

Create Buckhannon member C.J. Rylands said Edwards came forward with the idea and the rest of the group, as well as the community, rallied around him. Major achievements need initiative and leadership the same way gardens need water and sunshine, he said.

“This is about first-time gardeners experiencing the nurturing of the growing process and making the connection to where food comes from. The question now is how can we expand it? What can we do to improve it and get more people involved? It’s an accomplishment, but we’re thinking ahead,” he said.

The garden is mostly comprised of raised beds, which were built by students of the Workforce Adjustment Center, an organization that teaches a variety of skills to youths with learning disabilities, Edwards said.

“The kids really got into building the beds and enjoyed doing it. We picked them up, brought them down and set them in place. We used topsoil from the excavation site of the Event Center at Brushy Fork,” he said.

Create Buckhannon partnered with the Upshur Cooperative Parish House, which reaped a significant portion of the harvest to feed area residents in need. Everyone who planted a bed in the Community Garden was asked to plant a second bed to donate to the Parish House.

Morgan Downing recently completed a summer food ministries internship with the Parish House. She continues to live and volunteer there while she attends school at Wesleyan, where she is studying English and religion.

Downing was heavily involved with the Community Garden, helping to grow, harvest and distribute the food.

“It was really cool for me because I’ve never gardened before. There was definitely a huge sense of community. It was great to go out there at any given time and talk to other gardeners about their techniques. One person grew their beans with their corn so the beans would grow up the cornstalks,” she said.

Not only was it amazing to see the fruits and vegetables grow, it was rewarding to be involved with both the growing and handing out of the food, Downing said.

“Every family was going home with a bag of vegetables. They were going home with stuff to make salad and green beans for the whole family. We give away canned vegetables as well, but the difference between the canned and the fresh is amazing. You just feel good about it, especially when it’s a family who has children,” she said.

The community garden is something everyone can be proud of, Edwards said.

“We were able to really build something really nice,” he said.

Edwards expects the community will be able to harvest from the garden into November. Gardeners already have hauled out bushels of beans, tomatoes, squash, zucchini, corn, potatoes and more, he said.

“The beds are starting to look like a late-summer garden. We still have a lot of beans and corn left, and plenty of tomatoes. In some beds, they’re putting in a second crop of turnips, radishes and beats,” he said.

“It’s been a learning experience. Ninety percent of our gardeners were first-time gardeners. There’s been a learning curve. Next year, it will be better. We already have people wanting bed space for next year,” Edwards added.

Organizers wanted to make the garden look as presentable as possible, Edwards said. Next to the garden is a colorful sign surrounded by a bed of bright flowers. There also are mulched paths in between the beds. Next year, officials want to add more beds and perhaps some benches.

The garden was made possible by a $2,600 grant from Try This, West Virginia. The group recently brought a crew from West Virginia Public Broadcasting to Buckhannon to shoot footage of the community garden. Edwards said he is proudest of the friendships that have grown from the garden.

“Most of the folks gardening there didn’t know each other before they started. Now they know each other’s names. They’re friends. They’ve become a real community. That was part of our goal, to build community through gardening,” he said.