A quick scan of “housing authority community garden success” returns dozens of articles about devoted individuals who have grown community as well as food to sustain citizens in towns and cities nationwide. Many of these gardens first took root over twenty years ago, some are only in their second season, and others are in the concept stage. Crucial to the success of each of these gardens, though, is the feeling of investment and ownership the residents’ feel and rightly claim in regards to their tiny farm plots, the big work they do to cultivate them, and the fruits, vegetables, and flowers they produce.
Community Gardeners Make Their Own Way
Most of us are familiar with the maxim “It is better to give than to receive,” and much to recommend sharing the sentiment exists. But what might also be said is “It is better to earn than be given.” Community gardeners across the United States of America know this. Most community gardens thrive on land lent or donated by families, community organizations, and/or corporations. Many of the plants might be donated or discounted by such groups as well. And only a fool would turn down the offer of free mulch, top soil, or compost. But when all is said and done, each of us who puts time into growing the food we place on our tables for family meals not only needs to be able to enjoy a moment of pride to say, “I (or we) did this.”
Community Gardens Take Root in Welcoming Neighborhoods
The little town of Montevallo, Alabama is about to learn what it takes to grow a successful community garden in a housing authority neighborhood. The Crow Village is comprised mainly of families with young children and retired adults. Situated in a rather idyllic downtown area, this neighborhood benefits from small-town walkability. Only blocks away, at most, from any of the local public schools, including the University of Montevallo, the states only public liberal arts university, the Crow Village is neatly kept, and the residents have exercised their rights to grow beauty at their front doors for as long as anyone in town might remember.
Time again, when city officials have asked community members what might be done to improve the Crow Village, residents have requested permissions and support for a community garden where they hope to grow their own vegetables, fruits, and herbs. Mayor Hollie Cost plans to make that happen soon, and once this garden takes root, cultivation of another community garden will begin at a second housing authority site across town. Mayor Cost understands the necessity of engaging the citizens in all stages of community garden implementation: concept, design, cultivation, maintenance, and harvest. On this issue, she states, “This isn’t a gift, and citizens have made it clear that they are not interested in having anything given to them. Rather, this effort represents the sort of support and level of interaction for which Montevallo, Alabama has long been known. In the end, the entire town will be improved for the various levels of growth occurring in this garden, some of our most committed citizens will have the opportunity to grow their own food in their own backyards, and each of us will be better for the endeavor.”
The grow-your-own concept truly has taken root in Montevallo. With three community gardens in their fourth years, many members of the wider community have acquired experiences informed by success and trial/error. Hopeful for growth and sustenance in this garden for years to come, Mayor Cost has invited Central Alabama Permaculture Enthusiasts, The Blue Heron Edible Forest Garden, Seed to Table Community Learning Garden, and other gardeners from around town to participate in initial discussions as advisors on best methods and permaculture possibilities.
Staples of Southeastern Community Gardens
Ultimately, the decisions for what to plant will be made through discussion between the housing authority administration and the community members who join the grow effort. Typical community garden plots in the Southeast might include:
Perennial crops should be included as well. Such yearly producers make excellent pollinator attractors, guarantee annual yields, and beautify neighborhoods. Some perennials Crow Village citizens might consider are:
Each of these promises years of harvest and are available in native and/or pest and blight resistant varieties. Using native and/or resistant species allows community gardens healthier, organic, chemical-free growth.