As Gene and Marty Rice toured Ms. Schmidt’s fourth-grade class around Northminster Presbyterian’s Community Garden, the students wanted to know where the watermelons were at.
Looking over at the barely-sprouted plants, Gene chuckled.
“You got to have patience,” he said to the Jenkins Elementary School students. “You just have to wait.”
But the children did not have to wait long, as they were treated to fresh North Carolina watermelon when they returned to their classroom.
Now in its second year of operation, Gene said the Northminster Presbyterian Church Community Garden is used to educate, give back and create interest among the community.
Half of the garden consists of communal plots while the other half is used by a “diverse” group of citizen growers.
The communal plots will be just that — food that will be harvested and given to the community free of charge.
“Hopefully we can sit up the stand next to the road, and people can stop by,” Gene said. “If people want to stop by and want beans to go with dinner, they can come by and get some beans.”
Gene hopes to set up the food stand once a week. He said the food not taken by the community will be donated to the food bank at Eastern Catawba Cooperative Christian Ministries (ECCCM).
But the other half of the garden is for citizen plots. Gene said anyone can have a plot on the land for free, but asks for a $20 donation to help pay for lime and water.
About 25 area citizens currently have their own plot at the community garden.
“This is really helping spread the interest about gardening and getting people who have never grew anything before out here,” Marty said. “That’s exciting, very exciting.”
In a modern-day society where many foods are processed, Gene said it’s comforting to eat something you grew yourself.
“If you grow your own food, you’re going to grow healthy stuff,” Gene said. “If you grow your own food, you’re going to be interested in eating it, and you’re going to eat healthy.”
The communal and citizen plots include a wide variety of plants, ranging from squash to okra. Walking around the garden, there is also pepper, cucumber, green beans, peppers and 21 rows of corn.
As Gene and Marty did with Mrs. Schmidt’s fourth-grade class, Gene said a large part of the garden will be about educating youth.
“It’s to teach children about gardening,” he said. “Obesity with children is really epidemic, and hopefully we can instill in them the means of eating healthy and staying healthy.”
He added that youth from Northminster helped plant a plot for an elderly member of the church who was incapable of establishing her own plot.
Gene has been an avid gardener since he was 4 years old and is one of five master-certified gardeners at Northminster.
The Northminster Presbyterian Garden is located adjacent to the church at 3730 N. Center St. in Hickory.
Gardening for HOPE
The plots at Northminster aren’t the only communal gardens in the area.
Catawba County’s Help Our People Eat, or HOPE, program harvests crops from several local gardens to benefit area soup kitchens and food pantries in Catawba County.
HOPE recently added a new garden at the Hickory YMCA, adding to its two already existing locations in Newton and St. Stephens.
HOPE founder Christine Cofer said in the current economy, citizens should “get back to the basics” and garden.
“With the flailing economy, loss of jobs and increased need for service in Catawba County, it occurred to me that a great deal of food could be provided to those in need via a larger community garden,” Cofer said, adding that the idea for HOPE came to her while she was gardening at home.
Cofer said the HOPE gardens are completely operated by volunteers that can take a bag of vegetables or fruits home with them after they help out.
Food from the HOPE gardens benefits the Hickory Soup Kitchen, ECCCM, Kenworth Hall and The Corner Tables, among others.
Cofer agreed with Gene that growing your own food is comforting and safer.
“I kept hearing about food being called back, and at least when you grow something in a garden by itself, you know what’s in it,” Cofer said. “It’s just more nutritional and safer.”