By Kiesa Kay
Sunlight ripples silver across the creek as three volunteers kneel in the dirt, planting spinach seeds and onions in rich, loamy soil. Two gardeners tuck white row covers over a garden bed and then dash into the barn to organize boxes, starting spring cleaning early to the song of sparrows and blackcapped chickadees.
“We’re making real connections,” says Olivia Sanders, field manager for Dig In! Yancey Community Garden. “Whether we’re trying to grow nutritious new foods, learning strategies for distribution or sharing plant starts, we all learn from one another’s strengths. I’m blessed with a diversity of mentors.”
Thanks to Gardens That Give WNC (GTGWNC), this small community garden has access to regional expertise and resources. The regional organization consists of more than 30 community gardens and organizations dedicated to ending food insecurity.
“Each garden functions differently, but we all have one thing in common: Each garden is a place where people love to be,” says Susan Sides, manager of The Lord’s Acre in Fairview. “Relationships are our number one crop. The plants are second.”
The alliance of gardeners meets seasonally, but sharing happens constantly. Members share seeds, tools and resources—such as the new The Lord’s Acre book, Gardens That Grow and Give Away Food: A Training Manual. If one group has a big project, others will pitch in to provide volunteers. They work together on grants and partnerships. Doing meaningful work together through GTGWNC reduces waste, generates creative solutions and creates strong bonds of friendship.
“It’s heart work. It’s a work of love,” says Adam Bigelow, manager of gardens in Cullowhee and Sylva. “We’re all here to help each other, and if anyone wants to get involved in the kind of work we do, anywhere, we’re here to help it happen.”
Diana McCall manages the Dr. John Wilson Community Garden in Black Mountain. “We do more than grow food,” she says. “We’re creating belonging. We create a place where people are valued and where we all belong.”
As a young mother, McCall strapped her youngest child to her back and carried small shovels and snacks for her two toddlers as she stepped into the community garden nearest her home to feed her family. “I wanted to raise my children close to the earth and outdoors, building community,” she says. “It’s not easy to make a living here, but I won’t compromise on food.”
One in four children and one in six adults in WNC struggle with food insecurity. Community gardens can offer stability for those experiencing transitions.
“I have had to move at times, and with a community garden plot, even if I move, I don’t have to lose my garden,” Bigelow says. “It’s easy to start a garden. What isn’t easy is sustaining it and keeping it going for many years. With the support, knowledge, and model for success offered by Gardens That Give, community giving gardens can make it through diffi cult times.”
Giving gardens combine the efforts of many community groups, including churches, schools, cooperative extensions, health departments and individuals, to increase food sovereignty. GTGWNC members share tools and resources and provide good, nutrient-dense food that is accessible to all.
“If kids can choose between a soda and fresh cherries, they’ll choose the cherries, but many times they don’t have a choice,” says Ali Casparian, director of Bounty & Soul, a volunteer-based nonprofit that distributes 7,500 pounds of produce a week throughout Buncombe and McDowell counties. “We teach how to cook and prepare food. Success here means transforming people’s lives and health.” Organizations like Bounty & Soul often offer nutrition education and health and wellness resources as well.
Distributing the food can feel as rewarding as the gardening itself, Bigelow says. “I love walking into places to drop off fresh produce. People get so excited and often take the bags as soon as I put them down.”
Seeds of friendship and camaraderie are sown along the way. “Gardening with people makes the work exponentially more fun,” Sanders says. “We may not solve all the hunger problems, but we take care of each other when one of us feels sick or if someone has to move. Volunteering changes lives. We’ve created a caring, nurturing, thoughtful, loving culture together.”
To find out more about Gardens That Give WNC, visit thelordsacre.org or find them on Facebook. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to learn the location of the next meeting on Monday, April 16, from 12–2 p.m.
Gardens That Give WNC
Here are some of the gardens and food access organizations in our region. For a complete list and more information, visit thelordsacre.org.
CrossRoads Community Garden
Dr. John Wilson Community
Garden (Black Mountain)
Good Faith Garden (Asheville)
Grace Covenant Community
Hind’s Feet Farm (Asheville)
Home Grown (Black Mountain)
Community Garden (Asheville)
The Lord’s Acre (Fairview)
Love & Fishes (Asheville)
Sandhill Community Garden
Skyland United Methodist
Church Garden (Skyland)
Swannanoa Community Garden
Grace Giving Gardens
Living Web Farms (Mills River)
Rooted in Faith Community
Veterans Healing Farm
Cullowhee Community Garden
Sylva Community Garden
Cashiers United Methodist
Green Valley Community
Garden (Spruce Pine)
Rice Street Community Garden
Dig In! Yancey
Bounty & Soul
Healthy Living Nutrition
Programs Youth Services Center (Asheville)
Society of St. Andrews
Buncombe County Master Gardeners