By April Sorrow
University of Georgia
“There has been a significant increase in interest in community gardening this year alone,” said Bobby Wilson, who coordinates the Atlanta Urban Gardening Program. “There is always an increase in the spring, usually only 60 to 75 percent of the new gardens survive. We think this year many more will survive because of food prices and because people are concerned about what is going on their food in terms of chemicals.”
The program currently includes more than 225 gardens in Dekalb and Fulton counties, said Wilson, who is the UGA Cooperative Extension agent in Fulton County. But interest is growing. Attendance at a recent garden leadership meeting was double what it typically is.
“We try to provide assistance,” he said. “What we are finding is a lot of people don’t know anything about what they are doing. All they know is they want to grow their own fresh vegetables.”
Many gardeners in Wilson’s service area want to become certified to sell their extra produce to participants in the federal Woman, Infant and Child (WIC) Nutrition Program. Some gardening groups set up stands at local family and children services buildings to provide WIC recipients with fresh produce. They also go to farmers markets to sell their wares.
Community gardening not only nourishes the body, he said, it nourishes the mind and soul, too. It gives a sense of belonging, is a source of exercise and provides a venue for social networking.
“Gardening is more than growing fresh vegetables, it’s therapeutic,” he said. “We have found that a lot of people have participated not for what they do in the garden, but because they wanted to be a part of the internal structure. It makes them feel like they are a part of something important.”
Food from gardens in the program helps feed 300 homeless people at the Peachtree and Pine Shelter every month. Many gardeners also donate food to the Atlanta Community Food Bank through the Plant a Row for the Hungry program. This year’s goal is 30,000 pounds.
For more information, call your local UGA Extension agent at 1-800-ASK-UGA1.
(April Sorrow is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)
(April R. Sorrow is a science writer with the University of Georgia Public Affairs Office.)