On a small one-acre piece of land off U.S. Highway 70, a small community of gardeners spends three days a week growing their own fruits and veggies and collecting the eggs their chickens lay.
It’s called Garner Grows, and it’s a community garden of about 16 Garner families that share in their harvest.
“We operate on community model: If you come and you work, then you share in the harvest for that day,” said Maggie Tubilleja, one of the founders of Garner Grows.
They’ve been doing so for almost six years, planting flowers and food from okra and peas to blackberries and strawberries to potatoes and tomatoes.
The garden is open to the public and is mainly for people who can’t grow gardens themselves.
“A lot of people in the area don’t have the space to grow because they have too much shade with all the trees, because they are renting, and there are a lot of developments that don’t allow gardens,” Tubilleja said. “So for them a community garden is pretty much the only way they have to grow food.”
The garden serves many other purposes too, such as teaching children the benefits of growing their own food, giving seniors an outlet to get out and also learn something new, and for regular growers to know what’s in their food.
The garden also sells food in the spring.
“I think it’s important for people to have a connection to their food,” Tubilleja said. “To know how to grow it, if they need to or want to.”
June Murphy, who has lived in Garner for a year, said she likes to know what she’s eating before she eats it. So she enjoys growing her own food where she’s 100 percent sure there will be know pesticides or GMO’s in her food. And she’ll know which animal laid her eggs.
“I’ve always been interested in how we eat as a society,” Murphy said. “There are so many people that don’t know where their food comes from...You wouldn’t believe how many people think their eggs come from cows.”
Jackie Rickards, who has lived in Garner for a little less than a year, said she enjoys the camaraderie.
“For me it was more of a sense of community where I could come – because I grew up around a lot of lot of gardens,” Rickards said. “My grandmother loved them, my father loved them – so it was like finally I’ve found some people who could speak my language.”
Looking for a new home
The small gardening community has been operating on the one acre land since the group’s existence. The gardeners rent the land for a small fee. But recently the landowner has sold the land. Now they must find a new spot for the garden by the Fall after growing season.
U.S. 70 was a perfect spot because it was visible to people driving along U.S. 70, the town’s busiest thoroughfare.
The group has not found a spot yet. The worst case is a place outside the town limits. But the community gardeners want to keep the garden local.
“The whole thrust was to keep it as an urban garden and to reach out to kids and older folks as an avenue for them,” said Tammy Kennedy, one of the community gardeners.
Murphy, Tammy Kennedy and her husband Pete Kennedy were out gardening Thursday night, picking peas and letting the chickens run around.
The rules for the chickens: Don’t get close to the harvest.
“They tear the beds up in less than two minutes,” Tammy Kennedy said. “You wouldn’t believe how fast chickens can dig. They like the bugs in the beds, and they love the strawberries.”
Most of the chickens listen. A couple are pretty sneaky.
On a busier day, you can catch the children of the gardeners chasing the chickens around while their parents talk about the harvest.