Garden grows civic pride and fresh foods
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Saturday, Oct. 19, 2013

Garden grows civic pride and fresh foods

  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2013/10/16/12/51/lTm8e.Em.138.jpeg|210
    - KEIA MASTRIANNI
    Members of Ravenwood Hills gather around Jon Zimmerman to learn gardening skills. From left are Aundwel Harley, 41, Luk Romah, 10, Ko Romah, 9, and Kuok Siu, 10.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2013/10/16/12/51/FEuCY.Em.138.jpeg|210
    - KEIA MASTRIANNI
    Two Montagnard men, Hun Rahlan, left, and Jit Romah , 32, check on their vegetable plot.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2013/10/16/12/51/alLGp.Em.138.jpeg|210
    - KEIA MASTRIANNI
    Sinmi Romah, 11, tends to her family's plot on the way home from school.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2013/10/16/12/51/8XG6X.Em.138.jpeg|210
    - KEIA MASTRIANNI
    Jon Zimmerman, 39, left, and Aundwel Harley,41, look over a garden plot together. Harley tends a plot for his brother, sister, mother and children.

Nestled amid the rectangular, monotone buildings of the Ravenwood Hills apartment complex in West Charlotte is a splash of green, a place where people of different cultures come together to learn about food and each other.

The Lynn Street Community Garden is the collaboration of several Lake Norman area churches – Community in Christ Lutheran Church, Elevation Church E-Group and Davidson United Methodist Church – that support the Montagnard Mission, a program based at Community in Christ Lutheran to help the Montagnard people, indigenous refugees of Vietnam who have been persecuted heavily since the fall of Saigon.

North Carolina is home to the largest concentration of Montagnards in the United States, and the mission works to help families when they arrive, offering language courses, ministry, tutoring lessons for the children and food assistance. In total, Community In Christ in Cornelius offers nine programs, seven days a week.

The garden arose from a desire to help the Montagnards, who come from a deeply agrarian society, grow the food of their culture. The project took the collaboration of Ron Major, 70, director of the Montagnard Mission; Rebecca Carriker, general manager at Robinson Realty, which oversees the property at Ravenwood Hills; and the time, talent and resources of three churches to make the asphalt space come to life.

The day the garden was built, in July, the project exceeded its original intent. Lauren Millner, 48, a member of Elevation Church and volunteer, said “People came out and asked how they could help. Old people came out, young people came, people of all colors came.” Church members, Montagnard families and African-American families worked together to clear debris, mulch the space and build the 26 raised beds.

“As soon as we saw that,” says Major, “the garden was a success right then.” Major distributed fliers to the entire complex telling them about the available garden plots beds which could be rented for $10 a year. Plot owners receive a key to the garden and are free to grow whatever they want.

“Number 24 is mine,” says Aundwel Harley, 41, stocker at Pottery Barn and resident of Ravenwood Hills. Harley checks on the plot he rents for his brother, sister, mother and himself. He says he’s been a resident of the neighborhood, off and on, for 20 years. He has never gardened before but eagerly points out his lima beans and the young collard sprouts emerging from the soil.

A flurry of young Montagnard children pour into the garden fresh off the school bus. Immediately and with enthusiasm, they begin to water and tend to their respective plots. Jon Zimmerman, 39, Community In Christ member and avid gardener who helped plan the layout of the garden, looks upon all the growing plots. “This is the first time I’ve been back,” he says. “This is awesome.”

In the garden on a recent afternoon, a mix of all ages, races and backgrounds gathered. A once vacant space in a concrete lot is now growing fresh, healthy foods and a sense of pride for the Ravenwood Hills community.

“They beautified an eyesore,” says Aundwel Harley. “I’m glad they did it.”

Keia Mastrianni is a freelance writer for Lake Norman News. Have a story idea for Keia? Email her at keia.mastrianni@gmail.com

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