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Taking root: In third year, Suwanee's Harvest Farm continues to evolve

Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan The Suwanee community garden, Harvest Farm at White Street Park opened on April 15 for its third year of planting. The garden which features 78 garden plots has several contributions made by local schools such as artwork and educational projects.

Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan The Suwanee community garden, Harvest Farm at White Street Park opened on April 15 for its third year of planting. The garden which features 78 garden plots has several contributions made by local schools such as artwork and educational projects.

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Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Kindergarden students from the Legacy Academy get a tour of the Harvest Farm at White Street Park in Suwanee from Master Gardener Rosalie Tubre on Wednesday. The garden which features 78 garden plots has several contributions made by local schools such as artwork and educational projects.

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Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Yellow holly hocks stand in the foreground of the cistern at the Harvest Farm at White Street Park in Suwanee on Wednesday. The cistern collects rain water to then water flowers in the future.

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Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan A humming bird garden decoration stands amongst the plants and flowers at the Harvest Farm at White Street Park in Suwanee on Wednesday.

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Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan An orange gerbera daisy is covered in rain drops at the Harvest Farm at White Street Park in Suwanee on Wednesday.

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Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Chairperson Sara Kleinfeld and Master Gardener Rosalie Tubre, right, give a tour of the Harvest Farm at White Street Park in Suwanee on Wednesday.

SUWANEE -- Entering the third year of Harvest Farm, Suwanee's community garden is nearing its sweet spot.

In the first two years, volunteers who run the garden tried a series of social events, classrom-type projects, and even had a chicken coop on site. As the garden opens its third spring season, it plans to launch a website and add a three-bin compost system.

"Our first two years we were trying to figure out what the gardeners wanted the garden to be. So we threw lots of different things out to them," said Jessica Roth, the assistant to city manager Marty Allen, who helps coordinate the garden. "I think we understand better what our core gardeners want, so we're able to focus more on those specific things. Scale down to the things they're not really looking for the garden to be."

One consensus opinion about the garden is it's popularity, as the 76 plots remain occupied, and a waiting list is active. The plots range in size from four feet by four feet, four by 10 and four by 14. The cost for a plot is $50, $75 and $100.

"People willing to get their hands dirty are a different breed," said Sara Kleinfeld, the current chair of the Harvest Farm board. "They blend together."

Gardeners choose Harvest Farm for three main reasons: a social destination, lack of shade or space in their home yard or deer that prey on their home garden. Those reasons are why the community farm concept is a hot trend across the country, said Rosalie Tubre, a master gardener and active volunteer at Harvest Farm.

"People are wanting to get back to their roots and growing vegetables like their grandfathers did," Tubre said. "The taste and flavor of the vegetables, not like what you'd buy in the supermarkets."

Tubre gave a conservative estimate that she volunteers more than 200 hours each year at garden-related events and projects around Gwinnett County. She specializes in square foot gardening, and maximizing the crop yield based on the space available. Consequently, Tubre grows a lot of cucumbers, watermelon, cantaloupe and peas.

Kleinfeld said the cost of fresh produce is more economical from the community garden than mainstream grocery stores.

"You want to eat healthy, we're trying to fight obesity, especially in children, and the best way to do it is to eat fresh vegetables," Kleinfeld said. "The cost is high, if you're going to the grocery store."

That cost could plummet with a strong yield. Roth said one plot produed 88 cucumbers one season.

That kind of extra yield often ends up at the Quinn House, a Lawrenceville food bank. Roth said it's one of a few food banks in the area that takes fresh produce, and volunteers from Harvest Farm take regular deliveries. There's also a specific plot in the garden that's dedicated to the Quinn House.

Harvest Farm also donates to other charities such as those that worked in the Rome area last spring. Harvest Farm volunteers collected coats and blankets for the affected areas.

That kind of collaboration is common at Harvest Farm, Roth said, as the social aspect means gardeners share notes, recipes and seeds.

"You can connect with your community," she said. "You're not going to go to Town Center Park and just start talking to a random stranger, but you see that all the time in the garden. We have a number of gardeners who also have a vegetable garden in their own yard, and choose to also come here for that community feel."

Mayor pro tem Dan Foster will spearhead the compost project as it expands from one bin to three, to provide a rotation system. Foster said he expects to start the compost project next month. It will provide a balance of wet and dry materials. Foster is a compost advocate, and said he composts at home.

"It's something that's certainly required for an organic garden," Foster said. "There's a number of gardeners out there that always wanted to know what to do with their waste. Right now, unfortunately, it's going in garbage cans, which we certainly do not want that in the landfills."

Foster is a founding member of the managing board of the garden. Tubre said he's one of the more enthusiastic gardeners.

Since the garden opened, Foster has grown celery, tomatoes, several types of peppers and cucumbers because his backyard at home is heavily shaded. This year, Foster is growing herbs such as cilantro, basil, rosemary and sage. He also has onions and potatoes in for the first time.

The popularity of the garden means its most active gardeners have an eye on expansion. Roth said the next phase of the garden could be an expansion to a second set of 76 plots. That likely wouldn't come until the waiting list grows to more than a dozen.

"It is a draw for the community," Foster said. "Just as this (Big Splash Fountain) is a draw for people with young kids. That is a draw for like-minded citizens to come out and compare recipes, compare notes on gardening."

Comments

kevin 2 years, 4 months ago

Neat idea Dan. Just wish you could tell us if Suwanee sells containers for making compost.

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