Lake Norman & Mooresville

Residents launch Smithville Coalition Community Garden

Cornelius Mayor Chuck Travis, left, pulls the cord on an auger held by Brad Daubenmire as they and other volunteers build fences during the Smithville Coalition Community Garden’s kick off.
Cornelius Mayor Chuck Travis, left, pulls the cord on an auger held by Brad Daubenmire as they and other volunteers build fences during the Smithville Coalition Community Garden’s kick off. MARJORIE DANA

From Girl Scouts to inmates at Mecklenburg County Prison North, many Lake Norman community members united to create the Smithville Coalition Community Garden in Cornelius.

The garden was conceptualized by Ken Spatz of Cornelius, a 77-year-old retiree and member of the Southenders. He brought it to the Southenders – approximately 150 senior men from Huntersville, Davidson and Cornelius – in fall 2014.

The group welcomed the idea and researched how to make it happen. On April 18, the garden kicked off with more than 40 volunteers and garden-plot renters coming together to build and plant the garden.

Offered a list of 10 sites in the lake area, the Southenders selected a property in the heart of Cornelius’s Smithville neighborhood, near Smithville Park off of Catawba Avenue. The property was chosen, said Spatz, because it was relatively level, had a water supply and parking close to the road.

“People were very forthcoming and very willing to support the project,” Spatz said.

The Southenders united with the Smithville Coalition and Our Towns Habitat for Humanity. Coalition volunteers Ellen Shaw and Tony Matthews worked to help organize the project. They started the garden’s charity beds far before the April opening and have already grown and donated about 100 pounds of produce.

Spatz said that though the garden consists of 35 plots that can be rented to the public, four are handicap-accessible, and all areas not rented can be used to grow produce that can be donated to local nonprofits like the Ada Jenkins Center’s Loaves and Fishes program and soup kitchens. Spatz hopes to donate about 20 percent of the garden’s yield, and hopes plot renters will also donate some of their harvest. By trade, Spatz was a food broker, so he knows how that system works.

Spatz said one of his goals with the garden is “to give back to the community, to help people who are less than fortunate.”

On the garden’s opening day, volunteers from the Southenders, the Smithville Coalition, Our Towns Habitat for Humanity, Cornelius officials and volunteers from churches and nonprofit organizations came to assemble and plant garden plots and fencing.

A local Girl Scout troop was scheduled to bring ladybugs to live in the garden. Many of the seeds planted were started by prisoners at Mecklenburg County Prison North as part of a program to teach inmates a trade.

Spatz called for 40 volunteers to attend the garden’s opening event, and from the bustle of activity that day, it seems that many more than that showed up. Raised beds were assembled, fences were built, soil was cultivated and seeds were sowed. The sound of compressors, drills, hammers and shovels filled the air. The garden was much like a construction site on April 18.

Cornelius Mayor Chuck Travis and four of the town’s councilmen also worked in the garden that day.

“For us to be out in our community is important,” Travis said.

Travis also said the Cornelius seeks to support efforts to bring things like the Smithville Coalition Community Garden to the area: “I’m so impressed by all the people that came out. I’m very proud of the people in our town.”

Most of the garden’s 35 plots have already been leased at $25 per year, but a few remain available.

Some of the Smithville Coalition Community Garden’s major sponsors are Hoke Lumber, Our Towns Habitat for Humanity and Brixx Pizza.

Marjorie Dana is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Marjorie? Email her at

Want to help?

For information on volunteering or garden plots still available, email Smithville Coalition volunteer Ellen Shaw at