MOUNT HOPE — (Editor’s note: The Take Charge! Live Well series is an initiative of the Fayette County Living Well Workgroup in conjunction with The Fayette Tribune. The workgroup is funded through the Marshall University Center for Rural Health through the Appalachian Regional Commission, and Community Transformation Grant through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.)
Sure, growing a community garden is about eating well, and living a healthier lifestyle. But it’s also about so much more.
That’s what one community in Mount Hope is learning as they work together to build a new garden on the east end of town for all residents to share.
“It gets people together — both children and older people,” says Jean Evansmore, who is spearheading the creation of the DuBois Community Garden. Bringing different generations together is one of the main missions of the organization she directs, DuBois on Main, a museum that celebrates the African American heritage of Mount Hope.
A community garden is a collaborative effort to grow food. It can be an asset that benefits an entire neighborhood, city, and town. And there are thousands of them across the country.
Like all the rest, the DuBois Community Garden will be open to any resident who would like to claim a plot and get growing.
“It's the community’s garden,” says Evansmore. “The idea is you find some space and it’s your space to plant anything you like.”
So far, the garden has attracted involvement from kids in the DuBois 4-H Club, as well as seniors who attended the all-black DuBois High School in Mt. Hope.
Why start a community garden?
“We’re doing this so people can get together and learn from each other, enjoy each other, and eventually enjoy the fruits of their labor,” says Evansmore. “The fruits and the vegetables,” she added.
For Evansmore, the main attraction to this kind of garden is the possibility for intergenerational exchange. She says some of the seniors have asked her why they shouldn’t just grow a garden on their own private property.
Evansmore tells them that it’s an opportunity to get to know kids in the neighborhood. The kids will watch out for the seniors, and vice versa. Both groups occasionally need assistance. Seniors might not have the energy to dig and dig and dig. And kids might not have the first idea about growing crops.
In a lot of cases, the seniors grew up raising and preserving all their own food and have decades of experience to share with a new generation.
It’s no secret that childhood obesity and early onset diabetes have reached epidemic proportions in some West Virginia communities, so teaching kids what fresh food tastes like from the ground is also part of a mission to reverse these trends and raise a healthier generation of kids.
No matter what age you are, growing and enjoying the produce will help you get some exercise and incorporate into your diet the necessary vitamins and nutrients your body needs to stay healthy.
In places like Mount Hope — where the nearest grocery store with fresh produce is miles away — community gardens also offer the only access to fresh fruits and vegetables. Sometimes the easiest solution is to plant the food yourself.
Community gardens can also save money. Pooling resources like seeds and soil — costs that can add up — lowers the price of gardening. And if you grow enough, you’ll only need to buy dry goods from the grocery store.
There’s also potential for a broader economic impact. Some communities have developed their garden into a farm stand or farmers market, which are proven tools for community and economic development.
Finally, “doing it yourself” can build kids’ self-esteem, increase community pride, and provide a sense of accomplishment.