1/4/21

Hello all! Hoping your new year is starting out splendidly! Sorry it’s been a while since you’ve heard from us! You’ll understand why after you read below.

This is a 2 part post. First, please read the following long, wonderful article by Patrick O’Neill about Garner Grows, and what it means to us (it’s pasted in full below). Our most fervent thanks for his hard work pulling it together! article

Then, if you feel inspired, please consider posting your opinion on this survey for future Garner parks after you watch the video about them. The Yeargan road park is a PERFECT fit for a community garden and the more people they hear that from, the better!
info & video (1:20 and 1:45)
survey: Deadline for the survey is Fri Jan 8th.

Thanks in advance! 🙂

Here’s Patrick’s amazing article – have your hankies handy!

Garner Grows Urban Community Garden Struggles as Garner Grows

December 21, 2020

BY PATRICK O’NEILL

Whenever I stop by Garner Area Ministries backdoor food pantry to drop off a donation, I grab the clipboard hanging on the wall to jot down what I have brought. On that clipboard list are many groups, including local churches. But only one group comes so often that they use a return address label to note their donation of fresh produce. 

And I mean “fresh.” That group is the Garner Grows Community Garden, which harvests fresh produce all year long, kindly sharing their bounty with families that are food insecure during this year of pandemic and general economic hardship. As 2020 winds down, the Garner Grows group of about 20 member gardeners is celebrating 10 years of communal gardening in Garner, our town’s only community garden.

After More Than a Decade…Now Homeless 

However, Garner Grows’ joy of having sowed and harvested for more than a decade has been marred by the news the garden is now homeless; its deliveries to Garner Area Ministries halted. Last summer, as a result of a zoning misunderstanding between Garner Grows and the Town of Garner, the community garden, which sat on about 2 acres of land on the property of St. Christopher’s Episcopal Church on Vandora Springs Rd., had to pull up its stakes.

Instead of planning fall and winter gardens, the Garner Grows members had to uproot hundreds of plants, bushes and trees, and relocate all of its equipment to a temporary site while the garden members look for a new parcel of land to host the operation. 

Garner Grows Gives

Garner Grows longtime member and co-leader Tammy Kennedy said from last summer’s harvest “we donated more than 690 pounds of food to the Garner Area Ministries foodbank, so we are quite literally feeding those in need, which has always been a core part of our mission.” 

Like the name – Garner Grows – the community garden is part of a town that is also growing … and growing — at warp speed. Kennedy says the community garden has benefitted from having two sites during its history that have been close to the heart of Garner and in full public view to passersby. Maggie Tubilleja founded Garner Grows in the spring of 2010 on a 1.5-acre site that fronted Highway 70 about a mile from downtown Garner. Tubilleja said she started the garden as a way to make friends and it blossomed from there. GARNER GROWS GARDEN RECIPES

 “When I started the garden, I was the mother of two young children and had only lived in Garner for a couple of years, Tubilleja said via email. “I didn’t have much of a support system or friend group. I enjoyed growing food for my little family, but had trouble with motivation, especially in July and August! 

“Community gardening gives my family a way to combine nourishment for our bodies with nourishment for our souls. We have grown so much since those early days, not so much in numbers as in relationships and commitment to each other and knowledge of gardening techniques and processes. It has been a wild ride. ” 


The St. Christopher’s site was also high visibility, fronting Vandora Springs Rd.

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By 2017 Garner Grows had become a full-fledged community garden in the heart of Garner.


A Jewel for Garner

More development in Garner, however, means less open spaces where Garner Grows might be able to find a new home. Kennedy says high visibility gives more public recognition to the garden, and also attracts interest in the garden, bringing in new members.

Kennedy, a mother of two adult children and a grandmother of one, is a bubbly, articulate advocate of Garner Grows. She says the garden has been “a jewel for Garner.” 

“The Garner Grows Urban Community Garden benefits the community in many ways,” she said. “A well run community garden is breathtakingly beautiful and an inspiration. Community gardens are a sign of a progressive, forward-thinking town, and we love being in Garner and representing it as its sole community garden. We get compliments all the time from people walking past about how much they enjoy seeing the progress of the garden throughout the year and the beautiful plants. 

 “We engage with as many folks as we can who walk past – which is a form of a community watch and spreads good will. … The flowers and trees we plant have beautiful forms and blooms. We strive to have something going at all times of the year, but for them to also be useful in some other way.

We don’t spray with toxic chemicals; rather keeping everything in balance with hand methods or organic substances. The blooms and our careful stewardship benefits pollinators, both bees, which we keep, but also butterflies and other insects as well as seed-eating birds. The insects in turn feed birds, bats, reptiles and other important native animals, providing a place to live and thrive. We’ve planted a good amount of milkweed, and hope to eventually be listed as a monarch butterfly way station, to help this threatened species. 

Educating and Nourishing 

 “Too many people have no idea where food comes from and how it works, especially children.  Watching a light go off when someone tries something straight from a plant for the first time is incredible.  We have had so much positive feedback since we located to St Christopher’s, and it kept us wanting to constantly do more.” 

2019: Garner Grows second place market produce booth in the horticulture department at the state fair.
2019: Garner Grows second place market produce booth in the horticulture department at the state fair.

 Kennedy said the garden has about 30 members, about 20 or so are active. “There’s always a percentage that join to support us financially,” Kennedy said. 

How much food is produced “is a hard question,” Kennedy said. “We don’t measure or weigh it, but it’s enough that on most workdays volunteers leave with a basket full or half full of food, though sometimes it’s much greater. 

“There are lulls when there’s not much to harvest, but we try to minimize that.  Most workdays have between six and 15 volunteers.  We work three days a week, usually 2-3 hours a work session, with three leaders each having one day to lead.  It’s open to anyone who wants to join, and is $30 a year, per household.  We keep the costs low because we never want money to be a barrier to getting fresh food, and we do offer scholarships to those who can’t afford the membership fee.  We operate on a share the work, share the harvest model; splitting what we harvest on any given workday among those who worked that day.

“Direct benefits to our gardeners include delicious food, friendship, fellowship and free healthy exercise in the fresh air.”

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Healthy Food & Healthy Minds

On a more esoteric note, Kennedy and some of her cohorts elevate gardening to a mystical undertaking that inspires a sense of spiritual mystery, awe, assurance and fascination. 

Says Kennedy: “It has been discovered that there is a natural compound in the soil that acts as an antidepressant – powerful stuff in our age of turmoil, and directly helping with mental health issues.”  

Kennedy said her involvement with the garden kept her stable as the coronavirus hit hard. 

“I really believe I would have fallen into a deep depression this spring had I not had the garden to come to, lead, work in and commune with other people I dearly care for in a safe manner,” Kennedy said. “I was nearly clinically depressed as it was.  I’m moderately high risk and as such I only went to the garden and nowhere else.  

So, it has quite literally been my lifeline this year.  In fact, several of us are high risk and have mostly only had this as an outlet, and I know we all feel the same way about it.  This year has brought so many horrible things to be sad, angry and distressed about and at the garden I felt like I was making a difference in some small way.  Even if it was just to bring a smile to a passerby’s face when they saw a flower or a smile.”  

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“The garden has been a beacon of hope, a sanctuary and a respite from the divisive darkness of this world for me and my family.”

Garner Grows member, Jessica Jordan, a mother of three young sons, said gardening has a positive impact on her mental health.  

“My mental wellness is immeasurably boosted every time I go hang at the garden, get my hands dirty, learn about plants, enjoy being part of the community, try new foods,” she said. “And that’s on top of the benefit of all the produce we bring home.” 

Garner Grows member Danielle Ditenhafer said her involvement with the garden has given her hope in the midst of great despair.

 “When I reached out to inquire about becoming a member of the garden, I was at a point where I was contemplating my death daily,” Ditenhafer wrote in an email. “My first work day at the garden was Saturday January 7, 2017.

I will always remember that day because when I came home, my spirits were so lifted; my husband was astounded at my happiness and cried happy tears with me that I had found a place to belong, connect, and put down roots (emotionally, physically and spiritually)!

This was the first day of me taking steps to manage a diagnosis of Major Depressive Disorder… The garden has been a beacon of hope, a sanctuary and a respite from the divisive darkness of this world for me and my family. I know that several other members feel the same way.” 

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“In these COVID times it has been an invaluable outdoor place to gather and commune when we have been confined to our homes.”  

Garner Grows member Martin Petherbridge has lived in Garner for 28 years. He began volunteering at Garner Grows in 2019.

“I had suffered an injury early that year and needed an outlet to get me through rehabilitation and working in the gardens was an ideal fit,”

Petherbridge wrote. “What a journey it has been. A year later and I am still amazed at the enormous positive energy that this organization brings to the neighborhood, and the contribution it makes to the larger Garner community. And in these COVID times it has been an invaluable outdoor place to gather and commune when we have been confined to our homes.”  

Kennedy said Garner Grows offers “direct benefits to our gardeners include delicious food, friendship, fellowship, and free, healthy exercise in the fresh air.” 


The Community Speaks

Below are additional email comments some of the Garner Grows gardeners and others shared with The Garner News: 

 “Garner Grows is a standard and inspiration for my own garden, and I love walking through and driving by and seeing the different stages of growing fruits, veggies and herbs in the community garden. I love to follow the timing of plantings in my own garden. I was part of the garden before my kids over took my schedule with their interests. I loved working in the beautiful garden with all the master gardeners.”

– Laura Rogers

“I’m loving the progress of the garden, I see it every am when I deliver the newspapers.” 

– Donna Kingman

“The garden is promoting healthy lifestyles, such as exercise, plus a big variety of nutritious fruits and vegetables. What I like is that my children learning how everything is growing, that fruits and vegetables are not made in a store where you buy them normally, but you have to work hard to get it, and it’s fun for them.”

– Daniela Armbruster

“My daughter loves going to the garden. She gets to see where her food comes from, play with other kids, and do ‘heavy work’ that is vital for children with sensory challenges (she has oversensitive hearing, which can affect balance). Working in the garden is good for me too, since I get exercise, stress relief, and the satisfaction of better food security.” 

– Michael Whaley

“For me personally, I’ve received stress relief, camaraderie and so so much gardening knowledge that I never had before. For the community: we live in a world where people are very removed from their food sources. Not only do they not know how much effort, water, etc., go into producing their food, a lot of times they don’t even know what grows on trees or what grows in the ground. Even if they don’t join us, just walking or driving by they get exposed to how food is produced.”

– June Hanson

 Meals and A Mission

The Garner Grows Community Garden Statement of Purpose (below) gives a broad overview of the project: 

“Garner Grows Community Garden is a communal space that provides access to land, education and resources to learn and grow food in an environmentally sustainable manner. We created a local food system where we are able to produce nutritious food with affordable annual dues. This allows members (novice or expert) to grow produce and flowers, as well as their gardening skills. The garden also promotes a positive and sustainable environment for residents or neighbors to work together.

The garden may also function as a living laboratory for the students of Garner area schools and a model of sustainable practices at the community level. The garden operates through shared garden plots. Gardening with a group allows for a larger variety and yield. Specific vegetables and layout are designed each year depending on share the harvest members and may alter from year to year. All members participate in planting and maintenance of shared garden plots and overall garden infrastructure. All gardening tasks and harvests are shared equally. As part of this garden membership we have a goal of approximately 10 percent of the food to be donated through the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle’s plant a row program.” 


The Future?

Garner Grows member Jackie Parker moved to Garner in 2018. She said the garden “has been a tremendous resource” to the community. She, like the other members, hopes Garner Grows will find a new home in another residential site where people can really appreciate it. 

 A neighborhood site near downtown Garner would provide “older members and those living alone with the opportunity to connect with others while working on a shared goal,” Parker said. “I have seen it lift spirits and have experienced it, myself. Being able to walk up the road to the garden, particularly during moments of heightened anxiety (and especially during the pandemic) has been a saving grace. Invariably, once I’ve pulled some weeds, harvested some greens, and planted something new, I feel the therapeutic effects.

 ” … My daughter has learned so much about how to grow food, has expanded her palate, and has really come out of her shell and bonded with other garden members, all of whom have been happy to teach her. Having a communal garden, where those with expertise can share with those of us who are still learning, has been such a gift.”

For more information about the Garner Grows Community Garden, go to: garnergrows.com and/or garnergrows@gmail.com.

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