by David Shivers
The growing trend of community gardening is sprouting here in Albany as well, as the Kiwanis Club of Dougherty County heard at their September 23 meeting.
Albany native and Master Gardener Juby Phillips addressed the club about two projects she has been involved with, humanitarian-based Food for a Thousand at St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church and her own business-model yet environmentally-safe Green Life Garden.
According to Phillips, “Food for a Thousand is meant to raise food for donation to (low income) people who need healthy food and for people who have health issues” and may not have access otherwise. All of the food grown at St. Patrick’s this summer – tomatoes, corn, peppers, beets, radishes, okra, beans, and others – were donated to Neighbors in Need and The Lord’s Pantry for distribution.
Phillips said after she had the idea for Food for a Thousand, she approached St. Patrick’s rector, the Rev. Jay Weldon. They discussed it over a period of time, “and we decided no matter what we’d have something to show by Easter.” After the decision was finalized, “Many people from the community started showing to help us.” Numerous parish and community volunteers put in time and labor and Phillips enlisted local businesses such as Lawn Barber, Mark’s Greenhouse, Short & Paulk, and Knight’s Appliance to donate materials.
The 18 framed-beds summer garden at the church has produced over 700 pounds of donated vegetables, and planting is underway for a fall garden, proceeds from which are expected to help exceed the goal of 1,000 pounds harvested by the first anniversary of the Food for a Thousand project.
Although Phillips called it “a companion garden” to Food for a Thousand, Green Life Garden – located on Phillips’ own property a short distance up Old Dawson Road from St. Patrick’s – grows food for sale. It operates on the CSA (community supported agriculture) membership concept. The way it worked this summer at Green Life is members purchased coupon books entitling them to a certain amount of fresh produce. For $100 buyers could choose between coupon books for eight full-baskets or 12 half-baskets. (For further information, call 229-669-2278.)
All of the produce grown at Green Life Garden is organically-grown and chemical-free.
“We are trying to do things without using (weed-killer) and other chemicals,” Phillips emphasized. Rows are mulched with cardboard and wheat straw to suppress weeds.
Phillips has a vision that Food for a Thousand will be only the first in a network of gardens in Albany.
“We have a couple of plots on Highland Avenue that will be our next project,” she said. “Albany has many vacant lots, and our goal is to have a garden in every neighborhood and having people raise their own food.” It’s educational about healthy living, but “it’s also about spirituality in gardening and gardening as a journey. It’s definitely about the food and health you can receive from gardening, something you can get united around and get benefits from” physically, spiritually, and socially.
Through her community-gardening research, Phillips has netted contacts and friends from as far away as Long Island, New York, where community gardening has been a practice for many years, she said. At a conference in Charleston, South Carolina, she met a woman named Dorothy Riley from Long Island whose mother used to teach music in Albany, Phillips noted. “She used to come here as a child and visit her cousins,” Phillips related in a later e-mail. “It is such a small world!”
Phillips shared that one of her favorite things about Green Life Garden “has been the people that stop by, people that come to the garden to share stories and tell what their grandparents did.” One gentleman told her that his grandmother used to send the kids out to “spank the okra,” and Phillips’ reaction was “What?!?”, because in all of her years of gardening she had never heard that expression.
What “spanking the okra” apparently means, Phillips discovered, “is help releasing the flower bud from the emerging baby okra pod. If the flower petals remain, they can trap moisture and cause mildew on the pods as the flower petals rot and the bloom can constrict the baby okra where the flower connects to the pod, causing it to malformed if the flower doesn’t fall off naturally. So the kids would run up and down the rows with sticks ‘spanking’ the okra stalks to release flower blooms from the emerging okra pods.”
Asked about the economics of home-grown produce versus store-bought, Phillips proclaimed, “Not everything is about money.” Many people get joy and a sense of pride and accomplishment from growing and harvesting their own.