Eddie and Connie Beach, were honored with the G. Jackson Burney Community Service Award on Nov. 26 during a ceremony at Davidson’s Town Hall.
The Davidson residents of 30 years, who founded and have coordinated the Davidson Community Garden for the last five, helped make possible the donation of thousands of pounds of fresh organic produce over the years to Loaves & Fishes through Davidson’s Ada Jenkins Center.
Their goal is 2,000 pounds annually. The garden is one of the food charity’s few consistent sources of highly sought fresh produce.
Eddie Beach estimates that 80 percent to 90 percent of produce from the garden goes to Loaves & Fishes. The garden does not rent plots for personal use, because the Beaches’ founding goal was to bring people from all corners of the community to help provide food for the less fortunate.
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The Davidson Community Garden effort, sponsored by Davidson United Methodist Church, combines the couple’s passion for building relationships while giving back to their community, giving others the opportunity to serve and for gardening.
“People want to be part of something bigger than themselves,” Connie Beach said.
“As I tell our kids, it’s always all about people. Pretty much everything is. We can grow vegetables for people, but it quickly goes beyond the vegetables and becomes about the people.”
The couple said 15 to 20 volunteers usually help each Saturday in the garden; in a year, about 200 total volunteers and visitors pass through, including groups from schools and churches. Having a set meeting time each week for volunteering – every Saturday, March through November – has made participating in the project consistent and easy for volunteers, the Beaches said. It has also helped build a sense of community and friendship among volunteers.
“Different people know or take an interest in different things and teach us about them, too,” Connie said. For example, there are volunteers who are well-versed in organic pest management or in growing berries.
Another of many ways the garden is contributing to the community is that local inmates in a horticulture vocational program often start seedlings that are transferred to the garden.
Connie has worked in the travel industry for 30 years and has always enjoyed gardening. She also worked at Barium Springs Home for Children in the past.
Eddie retired a year and a half ago after 21 years as aquatics director and coach at the Lake Norman YMCA. He has also worked at Barium Springs Home for Children and spent seven years as youth director at Davidson College Presbyterian Church. Retirement has not stopped him from being active: He recently earned the title of master composter through the Mecklenburg County Waste Reduction Department, and visits schools to teach children about composting and worm farming. He has a worm farm at home, and recently constructed one for Lebanon Road Elementary in Charlotte.
One of the most rewarding things about the garden, the couple said, is the feedback they get from the community. Many tell the couple that driving by and seeing the flowers there brightens their day.
One story Eddie shared was that of a 5-year-old who often did not want to go to school, but so looked forward to seeing the garden’s scarecrows on the drive there that his grandmother used that to convince him to go.
Connie recalled a young girl who saw the tiny lettuce seeds and could not believe that whole heads of lettuce grow from them. Connie told her that is the miracle of gardening.
The couple said they were both surprised and gratified to be honored with the service award, given to members of the community each year since 2004. The monetary award tied to the honor will be used to buy seating for the Davidson Community Garden, as part of the Beaches’ idea of making the garden more picnic-friendly over the next year.
“We just feel like we’re part of a pretty solid tide in Davidson of people that are doing good things,” said Connie. “It’s a good feeling being part of that.”
The Beaches hope to someday help the people who benefit from the produce donated to Loaves & Fishes to learn to grow their own food. The couple also enjoys teaching the community about gardening.
“We really try more and more to grow winter crops. …We hope people will learn that in this area you can happily grow things like spinach and lettuce all year round,” Connie said.
“That’s the kind of thing we hope to teach people. A lot of it is both learning and teaching for us.”