Community Gardens form a Community of their Own in West Virginia

As the interest in and demand for community gardens grow, it is important that Extension Master Gardeners and Extension Service programs look at community gardens as places where great work and education can be done.  Here in Charleston, West Virginia’s capitol city, around 14 community gardens have sprung up in the last few years.

These gardens serve folks in diverse neighborhoods and diverse circumstances.  Each has an interesting story to tell and a diverse set of needs.  To better meet those needs, an area-wide organization, called the Kanawha Community Garden Association, was formed.

Partnerships create leadership and educational opportunities

This group allows me as the extension agent to serve a larger group of gardens and provide technical assistance to a larger group of people by assembling representatives from each garden under one roof.  This also allows for the assessment of where Master Gardeners may be needed to assist with projects and provide one-on-one education to community gardens.  Several participants have also been recruited to participate in the Master Gardener training course and have become stellar volunteers.  This allows for greater development of leadership among gardeners and the sharing of ideas and supplies across garden fences.

Earlier in the year, the association received a $7000 grant to provide leadership development training and build a “model” community garden in a neighborhood identified as needing (and wanting) a community garden.  All of this success has happened in a little under a year, thanks to the work of dedicated volunteers and the service of one very dedicated Americorps*VISTA member (who has since gone on to greener pastures).

Tour demonstrates community gardens successes and challenges

Kanawha Community Garden Association President Kelly Straight leads a tour through the Rock Lake Community Life Center Garden. Kelly is the leader of the garden, which was converted from an old community pool and putt-putt golf course.

Recently, the West Virginia Food and Farm coalition contacted the association to set up a tour of community gardens to allow other people to learn about the successes and challenges of community gardens in our area.  The tour group met on a warm, sunny October Sunday afternoon and found their way around town to a number of different gardens.  They have a wonderful article titled Lessons Learned and Report: Kanawha Community Garden Tour you may like the check out.

Tell us about community gardens in your area

We’ve recently heard from Connie Schulz and others about community gardens in North Carolina and we’d love to hear from others, as well.

  • Do you have community gardens in your area?
  • Is there an area or state wide organization or network where community gardeners can gather?

Share your stories or successes (or challenges)  in the comments.

John Porter
WVU Extension Service Agriculture Extension Agent
Charleston, WV

Washington State to Lead $1M School Garden Pilot Project

Washington State University will lead the cooperative extension services of  University of Arkansas, Cornell University, and Iowa State University in a $1 million USDA Food and Nutrition Service school garden pilot program. USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the award on April 7th:  

“School gardens hold great promise for educating our kids about food production and nutrition,” said Vilsack. “Learning where food comes from and what fresh food tastes like, and the pride of growing and serving your own fruits and vegetables, are life-changing experiences. Engaging kids in our efforts to end childhood hunger and curb childhood obesity is critical if we are going to succeed.”

Iowa State Extension 4-H and Youth Development specialist Janet Toering was quoted in a recent press release, which described the four main goals of the project: 

  • Increase fruit and vegetable consumption: “We want to increase kids’ access to and consumption of fruits and vegetables through hands-on learning about growing food,” Toering said.
  • Empower youth in their communities: Youth will be highly involved in building and sustaining the gardens to maximize their interest and learning.
  • Contribute toward a sustainable environment and food system: The pilot will help kids and educators appreciate the public health, environmental and social benefits gardens provide to local communities, such as physical activity, the connection to nature, fresh food production, social networks and sustainability.
  • Build a nationwide network: Extension educators and volunteers will work across disciplines to leverage existing federal, state and local investments in programs like SNAP-ED (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education), 4-H Youth Development, Master Gardeners and other community-based horticulture programs through a common garden-based learning program.

Congratulations Washington State (and Cornell, and Arkansas, and Iowa State)!

Bill Hoffman, USDA/NIFA

Maine Newspaper Reports on Penobscot County Master Gardener Projects

A reporter from the Maine Edge weekly newspaper wrote about the University of Maine Cooperative Extension’s Master Gardener program. Learn how Penobscot County Master Gardeners view the program plus details on an upcoming peony garden tour, a demonstration garden (including link to a virtual tour), growing extra produce to donate to local food pantries and more.