by Sarah Ridgeway, Fulton County Master Gardener Extension Volunteer
When I read a post on the social media site Nextdoor from Mike McCord asking anyone interested in participating in a Venetian Hills community garden to respond to his post, I immediately inboxed him of my interest. He called an introductory meeting on January 18, 2018. At that time, he explained a project that the City of Atlanta was starting, called AgLanta Grows-a-Lot. Vacant lots owned by the city were going to be used to start community gardens in areas considered food deserts. His interest was in the Campbellton Road site, for which he was submitting an application. This was located close to where he lived, and he needed to have residents in the neighborhood to participate and help establish the garden. My excitement was hard to contain, as I have wanted a community garden in my neighborhood for a long time. My backyard garden was over the years becoming more and more shaded as the trees matured around it. Having a spot with full sun to garden was a dream come true.
Looking back, I can remember the days spent visiting my grandmother’s house as a child in rural Monroe, Georgia. Her very large garden was planted not just for daily meals but to harvest vegetables to “put by” for the winter. Her garden was organically fertilized with the manure from the cow pasture, horse barn, and chicken coop. Nothing tasted better than the tomatoes, cucumbers, okra, Kentucky Wonder green beans, collards, yellow crookneck summer squash, Jackson Wonder speckled butterbeans, and silver queen corn. All planted with seeds she saved. What a feast at meal time with her country ham, fried chicken, or fried fish with biscuits and cornbread. There would now be a place where I could grow some of these sun-loving heirloom vegetables.
To get started with the community garden, participants were asked to attend training sessions with AgLanta. The training workshops explained the process, and then the work began building the garden. It was decided that building our own raised beds rather than paying upwards of $250 for raised bed kits was more feasible at this time. With a letter from the AgLanta office allowing me to solicit materials, I visited Home Depot, Lowe’s, and a lumber yard seeking donations for lumber to build raised beds. With these donations and donated compost and soil, the garden took shape with 18 raised beds.
AgLanta installed water lines and a fence. A contract for members was put together by Mike along with other garden members, and a fee was set at $35 per bed per year. I purchased two beds in an area near the entrance that received full sun for the greater part of the day. It was early spring, and I planted turnip greens, carrots, beets, and English peas. Later, as the weather warmed I planted corn, yellow squash, black eyed peas, pink-eye purple hull peas, tomatoes, okra, and peppers. My garden thrived.
Once the common area was established, I campaigned for a watermelon patch. After Mike finished tilling and adding compost to the area, watermelons were planted. There were so many watermelons we could not keep up with the harvesting. This was my place to feed my soul.
The Campbellton Community Garden lived up to the vision. Today there are twenty-nine 4’ x 8’ raised beds with an additional six that are handicap-accessible. All are rented except for two handicap-accessible beds. A storage shed has been installed and a toilet shed with hand washing station. I now rent three beds. My summer harvest was an abundance of tomatoes, peppers, okra, corn, butterbeans, and a volunteer watermelon.
To learn more about the Campbellton Community Garden, visit their AgLanta profile or their Facebook page. You can also learn more about AgLanta’s Grows-a-Lot program and meet the farmers who grow at these sites.