Community garden plants seeds of delight|County program also helps educate youngsters on the value of eating healthy food

Published 4:20 am Sunday, June 28, 2009

Staff Write

Deep inside the soul of Beaufort County there is a garden. And not just any garden, but a secret garden.
Hidden in plain sight just off Airport Road in Washington, the Beaufort County Community Garden thrives. Yes, it’s really there — the fence, the plots, the greenery, the splashes of color, the people tending their crops.
For the gardeners who toil in these plots with dirty hands and smiling faces, the garden is indeed their little secret — and a delight.
Just one year ago, 40 plots, all tilled and sifted, waited for gardeners to plant the seeds that would help the community garden swell with life. Area birds might tell tales of dedicated caretakers circulating through the gates, maintaining their respective patches.
Jack Haislip, a 72-year-old retired passenger-service supervisor for Pan America World Airways in Miami, returned to his roots when he rented a 20-foot gardening plot. His physician had recommended physical activity, so Haislip, who was raised on a Robersonville farm, chose gardening.
“It gives me something to do besides fish,” Haislip said.
A mutually dependent relationship has been created between the future of Haislip’s patch and his health. His garden abounds with squash, eggplant, cucumbers, tomatoes and herbs, and Haislip looks to future garden-fresh meals with hope and anticipation.
“If my health stays up long enough, I’m going to plant an asparagus bed.”
According to Beaufort County Cooperative Extension Director Ann Darkow, only two of the 40 plots remain available to rent. Even after the fortunate 40 have secured their spots, the public will still be invited to enjoy the garden, Darkow stressed.
“The community garden is so much more than a place for people to garden in. It is also an educational avenue for programming,” she explained.
Cooperative Extension employees hope the garden’s ability to showcase, homegrown healthy food will have a positive impact on future generations.
Susan Chase, a Beaufort County Cooperative Extension agent specializing in family and consumer sciences, facilitated a nine-week Steps to Health program for 80 third-graders from Northeast Elementary School. Part of the program took place at the community garden, where the third-graders, along with special-needs sixth-graders from P.S. Jones Middle School, could explore the world of horticulture.
“We’re trying to prevent childhood obesity and introduce fruits and vegetables to the children so they’ll be healthy, because if they start off being healthy, hopefully they won’t have a lot of these complications associated with obesity,” Chase said.
The 40 plots were drawn in three sizes, and rent for $20, $30 and $40 per year. Darkow said the inexpensive plots were a popular alternative to shopping for produce during the current recession.
“People are trying to help extend their food dollar, because in times like these more people are turning to gardening,” she said.
“The community garden is self-perpetuating and takes absolutely no county money whatsoever,” Darkow added.
As such, it is supported by cash donations and from members’ financial support, as well as donations of time, materials and labor from good stewards such as farmers, agri-businesses and master gardeners, who in 2008 donated 1,977 volunteer hours to the Beaufort County Cooperative Extension.