Giving Garden: Project blooms during first season
The Berryville community is growing the Giving Garden, and the garden is growing the community.
Joe Scott, director of the Berryville Parks and Recreation Department, said the initial goal of the project was to utilize the wealth of knowledge in the community and share it with local youth to incorporate the importance of gardening in their lives.
Over the garden’s first summer season, he said he got to witness that idea take root. Since the Giving Garden is located on the Berryville Community Center (BCC) grounds, the center’s Summer Youth Program students helped tend it while school was out.
“What I saw with the Summer Youth Program was that, unless they garden at home, these kids don’t have a lot of experience with it,” Scott said. “They think the food comes off the shelf at the store and don’t know that there’s actually a place where it starts as a seed and grows out of the ground.”
Watching the students in the Summer Youth Program gain that knowledge and understanding was exciting for the community center staff, he said.
“I know for a fact the kids from our Summer Youth Program have eaten more green beans than they ever have before,” Scott said, laughing.
Renée Allison, aquatic and program manager for BCC, said the students even used cucumbers from the Giving Garden and made pickles.
“They actually had a contest where each group made a different pickle recipe, and they decided whose recipe tasted the best,” she said. “It was really fun.”
Another key component of the Giving Garden in its first year has been the Carroll County Senior Activity and Wellness Center, Scott said. Carla Mann, director of the senior center, said the community center would send vegetables to the senior center to cook.
“The senior center cooked some of the vegetables and fed it to the senior center and the Summer Youth Program,” Mann said, “so they actually got to eat produce from the garden.”
During peak production times, Scott said the community center has been able to take produce to Loaves and Fishes Food Bank as well.
“We kind of spread it around the community,” he said. “So truly in that core essence, it is a community garden because the community has been a beneficiary of it.”
Mann said she and Scott have been talking about increasing the senior center’s involvement in the Giving Garden so that the seniors can share their gardening experience and knowledge with students and volunteers.
“We’re talking about making it an intergenerational thing where the seniors are teaching the children how to do this and sharing their knowledge with the kids,” she said. “We’re also looking into possibly doing field trips over here and getting kids at the different schools involved.”
Allison said the Giving Garden project has already worked with Berryville High School. The agriculture program started the garden’s original seeds in the school’s greenhouse, she said.
“They’ve been great,” Scott said. “It was a huge thing for us to have them start some of the seeds in the spring so that we could plant more established plants. The Future Farmers of America (FFA) program has been a big help.”
Randy and Barbara Rust said they became volunteers at the Giving Garden after hearing about it at the senior center.
“Carla announced that another senior had been coming down here with the kids and picking produce, but then school was starting and they needed more volunteers,” Barbara said. “I thought ‘I’m not doing anything. I can come down on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays,’ and Randy started coming with me.”
“It’s fun to volunteer,” Randy said. “On our part, it’s really similar to Easter egg hunting. We get to do the fun part after they’ve done all the week. This is an absolute treasure.”
He said he is impressed by how well the Giving Garden is doing in its first year.
“They hit a home run here,” he said. “This is only the first year, and everything is unbelievable.”
Barbara said she loves volunteering at the Giving Garden because she gets to be involved in the community, meet new people and pick beans.
Mann said the Giving Garden is looking for people to volunteer, and the senior center will be organizing a volunteer schedule. She said anyone interested in volunteering can call the senior center at 870-423-3265.
“We’ll be looking for groups of people to come out and help us volunteer in the garden on a scheduled basis,” she said. “We’re hoping churches, youth groups, community groups, homeschooled kids and anyone else interested gets involved. We want the whole community to benefit from it.”
While the summer season is winding down, Scott said they have already planted some fall crops in the Giving Garden.
“There’s a lot you can do on a year-round basis, and there’s still so much we’re figuring out,” he said. “We’re still trying to develop a calendar and figure out what we should be doing. This year, we started when the growing season was already on us and were doing things you probably could have done in the fall.”
As the year continues, he said they plan to develop a more detailed planting schedule for the Giving Garden.
“It’s been a neat little experience. I knew it would be a lot of work, and it has been,” Scott said. “Luckily, I think a lot of the work was at the front end, so now I think we’ve got it a little bit established. I’m hoping future seasons will be a little easier for us.”
One of his biggest hopes for the Giving Garden, he said, is that people will take the experience and knowledge they learn at the garden and apply it at their own homes.
“I like the idea of people taking a little spark from here and taking it back home,” Scott said. “I like the thought of people taking part of their yard or even just a bucket and making a small garden. You get to spend a little time being outdoors, and then you get the food the plant produces. It’s beneficial in both ways.”
He concluded, “I hope the Giving Garden gets people to think gardening is cool and encourages more people to do it.”