The small piece of land beside the Clayton Community Center has come a long way in five years.
The tall grass is gone, replaced by raised garden boxes for carrots, tomatoes, garlic and eggplant. Nearby are rows of pumpkins and watermelons.
A core group of volunteers, many of them master gardeners, have helped grow the garden since Clayton Parks and Recreation and the N.C. Cooperative Extension hatched the idea in 2010. Master gardener Roy Lewis of Willow Spring said they’ve made a lot of progress but have much more they want to add.
The goal, he said, is to have a true “demonstration garden,” where experts can teach all forms of gardening. The focus right now is on vegetables.
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Also, the volunteers recently added bees for beekeeping, and Lewis said he hopes to add more space for flowers and a dry-rain garden.
“We are trying to demonstrate that you can grow anything here in North Carolina and be successful with it,” Lewis said.
Ten-week classes have been held three times a year since 2011. Yields have grown from a few hundred pounds each season to more than 1,000. The garden has produced about 1,300 pounds so far this year.
A lot of the produce goes to the Clayton Area Ministries food pantry.
Volunteers take turns visiting the garden in between classes, mostly to water the plants. Tamara Wallace, a master gardener, said that while she spends three hours a day in her garden at home, she never minds helping out at the community center plot.
“I come out here because there is such a fun group of people,” Wallace said. “This is my social event of the week.”
Tommy Bagley, who’s also a master gardener, has been helping out for most of this year. He started gardening with his father as a kid and still isn’t tired of it.
“It’s an escape – it’s not work really,” Bagley said. “It’s religious, really.”
In addition to the master gardeners, church groups and scouts have helped tend the crops from the beginning.
Also, businesses have started doing community service and team-building at the garden, said Parks and Recreation Director Larry Bailey. “It’s becoming a true community garden,” he said.
After receiving calls from residents asking how to grow vegetables in this area, Bailey worked with Cooperative Extension agent Shawn Banks to start a Gardening 101 class. The group met at The Clayton Center originally, then moved to the land beside the Clayton Community Center.
Starting out, the garden received a $3,000 grant from Nourishing North Carolina to build a storage building for supplies and to buy gardening tools. Last year, Clayton used another $4,500 grant to build a 14-foot by 14-foot greenhouse, which allows users to grow produce year-round.
Registration is still open for the fall gardening class, which costs $20. To sign up, call the Clayton Community Center at 919-553-1550.