University City

Tour spotlights University City community gardens

Don Boekelheide

For the past couple of Saturdays, the big community garden in Reedy Creek Park has been a beehive of activity as gardeners prepare for the 2013 Can You Dig It community garden tour May 4.

Reedy Creek and three other food-oriented gardens, all in University City, are the featured destinations on this year’s tour.

As part of Can You Dig It, the entire community is invited to visit community gardens, meet gardeners and learn how to grow successful food gardens.

Besides Reedy Creek Park Community Garden, the rest of the 2013 Can You Dig It gardens are Garinger High School’s garden project and greenhouse; the Newell Farmers Market and truck garden; and the teaching garden at Carolinas Medical Center–University.

“Garden-grown produce is fresh, tasty and full of nutrients,” said Megan Dean of Mecklenburg County’s Health Department, director of the county’s fresh fruit and vegetable coalition, which is sponsoring the tour.

“The coalition’s goal is to get 25 percent of Mecklenburg County residents to regularly eat five fruit and vegetable servings a day,” Dean said. “The Can You Dig It tour helps us work toward achieving this goal by teaching participants how to start their own vegetable garden or become part of one of many community gardens in the area.”

This year’s tour is self-guided, beginning at 9 a.m. at Garinger High School, off Eastway Drive at Sugar Creek Road. Participants will be able to visit gardens on their own between 9 a.m. and noon. From noon to 1 p.m., CMC-University will host a community garden gathering at its new teaching garden behind the hospital.

The event is free, but organizers strongly encourage online registration. They also will gladly accept donations at the noon garden gathering. Proceeds will go toward supporting community gardens through purchases of tools, seeds and other supplies.

This year marks Charlotte’s third Can You Dig It tour. Earlier tours highlighted gardens in Charlotte’s Center City area, in Plaza-Midwood and along Central Avenue. This is the first time University City will be in the spotlight. Past tours earned high marks from all who took part, and Can You Dig It 2013 is poised to be the best tour yet, organizers said.

The Garinger Garden project, lead by environmental science teacher Andee Hendee, is relatively new, but it builds on a long tradition of horticultural and agricultural classes offered at Garinger. Community partnerships have been key to restoring the school’s long-neglected greenhouse, and to launching a new school garden for students. CMS is the garden’s sponsor.

Reedy Creek Park Community Garden, first organized by a participant in the YMCA and Urban Institute’s University City Community Building Initiative in 2004, is now in its ninth year. From a modest beginning of 22 beds in 2005, it has grown to 76 beds covering about an acre, making it one of Charlotte’s largest community gardens.

The garden is on public property owned by Reedy Creek Park. Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation, along with the county’s Cooperative Extension office, provides support services. Gardeners come from a wide variety of backgrounds, cultures and locations, which makes the garden a great place to find garden inspiration and novel ideas in a surprising, sometimes strikingly beautiful quilt of garden diversity.

Longtime Reedy Creek gardener Gail Fox and Joi Abraham, one of Reedy Creek Park’s five garden captains, are lead organizers for Can You Dig It at the garden.

The Newton family created Newell Farmers Market close to the center of the historic Newell Township, south of UNC Charlotte, in response to a community-led city small area plan. The market honors the area’s agricultural heritage and provides a community destination as well as a source of healthy, locally-grown food.

The Newton family has a large truck garden beside the market, where Can You Dig It tour participants will be able to see vegetables growing on a larger scale. The market has been in existence for several years, but it is now able to offer a wider variety of produce for a longer period each year, from local farmers as well as the Newell truck garden. Nancy Newton, the farmers market manager and a veteran community leader, will host visitors.

CMC–University launched its teaching garden in 2012. The garden is an architecturally designed space with trellises, benches, attractive wooden planter boxes and fruit crops espaliered along fence lines to demonstrate how edible plants can become a charming and effective part of even the most attractive and expensive landscaping. The garden’s harvest is not used in the hospital but is shared among staff and the community.

The hospital and tour organizers invite all Can You Dig It participants to gather at the CMC garden for a program from noon to 1 p.m. that will feature educational presentations, networking opportunities and live music.

“At the end of the tour, participants will know the basics of soil preparation and vegetable plant maintenance, and will receive a vegetable or herb plant to take home.” Dean said. “It is a fun community event for both novice and experienced vegetable gardeners.”