Food price, tomato scare sow new interest in community gardens (Google / ACJ / AP)

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Food price, tomato scare sow new interest in community gardens

One garden receives contributions, including leaf mulch, a paid consultant

For the Journal-Constitution
Published on: 07/10/08

Mableton resident Kim Prescott thought vegetable gardening was just a pastime for retired folks. But a friend coaxed Prescott, 43, into starting her first vegetable garden this spring. Prescott’s timing could not have been better, with food prices climbing at the grocery store and tomatoes suspected of being tainted with salmonella recently pulled from produce bins. “I’m hooked,” said Prescott, who tends a vegetable plot at the organic Mableton Community Garden in Nickajack Park. “It’s great to pick your own produce, eat it and know exactly what went into it.” A growing number of new gardeners across metro Atlanta are nurturing their own vegetable plots or joining forces with experienced neighbors at community gardens, where people garden together on shared space. “This year we have a record number of community gardens — 18 new gardens in one year. That’s a lot of activity, and it’s spread out over several counties,” said Fred Conrad, community garden coordinator for the Atlanta Community Food Bank. The drought can’t stop them. Personal food gardens are exempt from water restrictions, according to the state Environmental Protection Division.Louise Estabrook, agriculture and natural resource agent for the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension-Fulton County, has fielded several calls from first-time gardeners this season.

“It’s because of things like the tomato scare,” Estabrook said. “Those kinds of scares are forcing people to look to their own produce.”

The new interest isn’t just here. Philadelphia area-based W. Atlee Burpee & Co., the nation’s largest seed company, has sold twice as many seeds this year as last, with half the increase from new customers, estimated George Ball, company president.

In Atlanta’s West End community, 58-year-old Robert Thompson has his first-ever vegetable plot at Rose Circle Community Garden.

“I figured, why should I have to buy my produce elsewhere?” said Thompson, a chef. “To me, cooking starts with the selection process, and I decided I personally wanted to grow my own food.”

In Peachtree Hills, about 10 neighbors have created a community vegetable garden at Peachtree Hills Park. First-time vegetable gardeners there gain knowledge working alongside more experienced gardeners, such as Anne Stanley.

“I think in this day of increased gas prices and increased grocery prices, why should I buy vegetables from Chile and Argentina when I can grow my own?” Stanley said. “I think every neighborhood should have their own community garden.”

Peachtree Hills resident Susan Conger has tried her hand at square-foot gardening, using a grid to mark sections for different vegetables.

“This is the first real vegetable garden I’ve had. The biggest thing I’ve learned is that I love it, because I didn’t try to do too much,” Conger said of her plot.

Some gardens are big, like a new southwest Atlanta community garden being carved out of about an acre on Atwood Street. The garden, CVC Urban Farm, is a partnership between Neighborhood Planning Unit T’s Community Food Project and Creating Vibrant Communities Inc., a nonprofit community development organization headed by chef Thompson.

The garden has received in-kind contributions, including leaf mulch, and even has a paid consultant — Rashid Nuri, owner of Truly Living Well Natural Urban Farms in East Point, according to Kwabena Nkromo, chairman of Neighborhood Planning Unit T.

Other gardeners are working in tiny plots, like those the Atlanta Urban Gardening Program is planting in the bottom of recycled plastic barrels for Fulton and DeKalb residents to set in their yards. This program, which is affiliated with the UGA Cooperative Extension Service, works to connect community residents through gardening.

The plantings they receive are free, but recipients must learn how to care for the pint-sized portable plots, called circular gardens.

Decatur resident Nika Terrell, a full-time student and a mother of five children, has three circular gardens in her yard. “I’m concerned about pesticides in the environment. I try to buy organic food, but it’s so expensive right now. Actually, food in general is expensive,” said Terrell, 32.

Terrell tried to clear land for a garden at her rented house but found the ground too hard. Her summer crop includes tomatoes, sweet potatoes and peppers. She plans to have all three circular gardens planted with collards in the fall.

“Every little bit helps,” Terrell said. “I want to spread the word. They’re very easy to maintain, and even if we move, we can take them with us.”

Empty-nester Ellen Anderson’s little garden in Dacula has grown from one tomato plant last summer to three tomato plants and five pepper plants this summer. She waters one tomato plant with condensation water from her air conditioner. The rest of her garden is on the other side of her house.

“The condensation water is great. It’s just the humidity that’s pulled from your house,” says Anderson, 52. “If you have a little garden, you could plant two or three plants and the watering would be taken care of.”

Mableton resident Jane Gower Turner was instrumental in starting the community garden at Nickajack Park, which is in its second growing season.

“My friend and I were interested in learning about community gardening and teaching our children where food comes from so they would be more interested in eating vegetables,” said Turner, 34.

The garden contains 21 plots that include yellow and zucchini squash, eggplant, tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers. Turner planted one row of corn this summer.

“I found out you need at least three rows of corn because corn is pollinated through wind. If you have only one row, they don’t reproduce,” Turner says. “It sounds silly, but I didn’t know that.”

Growing tips


The Associated Press contributed to this article.

Published by

Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.