Surely you’ve driven past the lush gardens on Hart Street behind Food 4 Less in Marietta.  Have you ever wondered what the storybehind that place is? Are the plots behind the black netting reserved for an elite group of fanatical Master Gardeners?

Nope. They are available to anyone, for free, as long as they are willing to commit their time and attention to making something grow.

garden stakesThat big garden on Hart Street is only one of the six sites that the nonprofit food-rescue organization Washington County Harvest of Hope has established throughout the county. Those community gardens are not just about growing food, however. They create shared spaces in low-income neighborhoods where people of all backgrounds can gather, socialize, and learn. Their bond? A love of growing things.

With two dozen plots, the Hart Street garden is the most visible and active of the community gardens. Other sites include gardens in Belpre and New Matamoras. And making a comeback this year are the Harmar community gardens.  After a battle with invasive Bermuda grass put a damper on things a few years ago, Garden Coordinator Cindy Brown solved that problem when she and a crew of employees from Lowe’s volunteered their time and improvised a series of elevated beds using pallets and inexpensive materials. The waist-level beds protect the growing soil from the Bermuda grass, but more importantly, they create gardens that are easily accessed by older or injured gardeners who can’t kneel, squat, or bend very easily.

Cindy and friendStudents from the nearby Harmar Elementary School planted seeds in several of the beds. Through grants and donations of both money and materials, Harvest of Hope provides gardeners with not only a plot, but seeds and seedlings.

Currently gardeners are encouraged donate a portion of the produce they raise to Washington County Harvest of Hope. This produce finds its way to the community in several ways. Harvests of Hope’s volunteer truck drivers deliver the majority of the donated produce to food pantries and community meal programs. And in the summer and early fall, weather permitting, there’s a mini-market at the Hart Street garden every Wednesday from 9 a.m. to noon. Aimed at residents of the garden’s immediate low-income neighborhood but open to everyone, the market offers a selection of the garden’s bounty. Tomatoes, bell peppers, and eggplants are the most common items available. Last year’s damp weather and tomato blight limited the Mini-Market’s offerings, but Brown and the gardeners are optimistic about this year.

compostingSome gardeners prefer to distribute their produce themselves. Gardener Dick Le Barre, who tends one of the Hart Street garden’s most productive plots, takes a significant amount of his produce to directly to shut-in residents at the Jaycee Estates, housing for low-income seniors and disabled people. This creates an uplifting face-to-face interaction that can brighten the day of someone whose poor health makes leaving their apartment difficult, making the visit far more meaningful than a prosaic handoff of vegetables.

You can learn more about the Harvest Hope community gardens by visiting their website or liking their Facebook page. Or, even better, stop by one of the sites and see for yourself! Gardeners are often happy to discuss what’s happening in their plots. Because the power of the community gardens isn’t about the plants, the beauty they create, or the food they produce. It’s about the people who come together there.

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MaddiRachel MCvols

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