2015 Search for Excellence Awards – Community Service — 3rd Place Winner

Florence Community Garden

pic 1When this project was first conceived (first quarter of 2013) we knew that this was not going to be a project Extension could tackle alone. With the Shoals Master Gardeners taking a leadership role, partnerships were developed with the Northwest Resource Conservation & Development Council, the city of Florence, the Florence Men’s Club and the Lauderdale County Commission. Planning meetings and conceptual design began January/ February time frame by pulling people together. The biggest obstacle was finding an area with a suitable water source.

Several areas throughout the city were consider potential garden sites but a ready available water source was the limiting factor in each case. After review of several areas we realized the area was right at our door step. The Community Garden’s location is along Veterans Dr. between S. Oak and S. Chestnut Street on property occupied by the Florence Lauderdale Coliseum and the Alabama Cooperative System. The property is owned by the City of Florence. The Gardens are located between the parking lot and Veterans Dr. This project was planned and designed to provide a highly viable facility where veterans, low income and or physically impaired citizens and those with no room or opportunity could have their own garden. We wanted a facility with open public access, adequate sunlight and availability of water. The Extension Office provided ready access water and we ran a drip irrigation system to each bed, on timers, so the gardeners didn’t have to carry water unless they wanted more than we allocated through the system. pic 2The Project Team immediately  choose the raised bed concept for ease of access for challenged individuals, children and predictability for success by having a consistent growing medium within each bed.

Our original plan and budget was to build fifty individual raised beds. We actually built fifty two beds and every one of them ended up with an “owner” who planted, tended, and harvested their crops with great personal satisfaction. Two of the beds were used by the Extension System for ‘Trapped crops” and “Pollinators” (butterfly and humming birds). Two other beds were by the 4-H Club, (Junior Master Gardeners). The Extension system conducted public forums for new gardeners to instruct them in the best practices and methods for them to succeed in growing. The meetings were held during the day and again in the evening to accommodate those working. Every gardener got a condensed lesson in pest management, horticulture practices, seed/plant selection and garden care.

Master Gardeners were available daily (through the Help-Line) and on weekends to provide advice and information to the new gardeners.  The raised bed garden is not a unique concept,however, we did provide a growing medium not previously employed. The Florence city government provided equipment  and transportation for us to move tons of “Cotton Gin Trash” from two separate gins in the county, to our garden location. The Shoals Master Gardeners team wheel-barrowed those same tons, into the fifty-two beds which were  4’ wide x 8’ long x 20” deep. This filling process continued over several work days. Cotton gin trash is the biomass by-product of the business of ginning cotton. This sustainable product, in it’s composted forms yields an inexpensive, micro nutrient rich planting medium.

pic 3The total summer production was over 2100 lbs. Also, there were several gardeners who produced fall gardens.

The project fostered six other Shoals Master Gardener Projects that were able to utilize the same raised-bed and gin trash concept at a nursing home, four schools and a community health clinc. In the near by city of Sheffield, there are plans to establish an entire city block of raised bed gardens in 2016. So, for 2015 we had a 85% retention rate from 2014 and quickly filled up from the waiting list with potential gardeners and the fruits of their labor are seen here. The waiting list continues to grow.

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