Community Garden used for education, demonstration

By Jessica Johnson

April 23, 2014

According to the North Carolina Recreation and Park Association (NCRPA), research shows that when communities have access to fresh fruits and vegetables, they are healthier communities as a whole, with lower rates of diabetes, obesity, and other diet-related diseases. Many North Carolinians have limited access to fresh produce, and may not have adequate space to grow a garden, or may not have the knowledge of how to start and maintain their own garden.

The Surry County Center of the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service is seeking to change that, with the Firehouse Friends Community Garden serving as a special project for demonstrations, education, and even space available for those who would like to grow their own gardens. An upcoming workshop on May 8 at 6 p.m. at the community garden, which is located behind the Mount Airy Fire Department at 439 Rockford Street, will teach those in the community how to grow vegetables in raised beds.

The community garden began in 2011, when Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina and the NCRPA joined forces to establish a community garden in all 100 counties in North Carolina by the end of 2013. Since the goals of the project — to supplement those in need with fresh produce, increase consumption of fresh produce, and provide physical activity through garden maintenance — are so close to the goals of the Surry County Extension Office and the Surry County Health Department, it was the perfect opportunity to partner together.

Extension Agent Joanna Radford said it was also the perfect project for the Surry County Master Gardeners, who came in as advisers over the garden, showing people how to plant and provide for themselves, helping to plant the garden with seasonal plants, weeding, and harvesting the garden.

This year, the Master Gardeners have been revamping the garden to use as a demonstration space for raised beds and square foot gardening. The garden is planted with early crops like Swiss chard, broccoli, cabbage, leaf lettuce, head lettuce, chives, and potatoes, and Radford said that when they cultivate the produce, they will add summer crops such as tomatoes, cucumbers, green beans, and corn.

Radford added that a local woman requested two garden beds for herself, and she is growing produce in those beds. “We do have beds available for anyone who would like to use them. This year is a pilot year for that program so there is no charge. We just request that those who use the beds work to keep them maintained, but we will have work dates scheduled when Master Gardeners will be there to assist them,” Radford said. “Of course, those who have beds can come anytime to harvest, weed, and maintain their garden.”

The fresh produce will be donated to local organizations such as the Shepherd’s House homeless shelter, the Surry County Children’s Home, and local food banks.

Last year, Radford said The People’s Church harvested vegetables and used them to cook a meal for those in need in the community.

Radford added that they would love to have help from local groups such as scout troops, youth groups, and even students in need of volunteer hours or those who may want to take on a senior project. “We will need help in the gardens with trellising, general maintenance…just contact the extension office.”

Another addition this year is two compost bins. Radford said she is proud that the garden is “expanding little by little” each year.

“We would love anyone who wants to come out and help to join us, and even to claim beds for their own uses. That’s the purpose of this, to enrich lives and bring the community together.”

To join the free workshop on May 8 at 6 p.m., held at the community garden, or for more information about the community garden, call 336-401-8025 or email Joanna Radford at

Reach Jessica Johnson at 719-1933 and on Twitter @MountAiryJess.