Garden to Go

Published 8:05 pm Monday, February 2, 2015

FILE PHOTO | LOIS OMONDE   PETER, PETER, PUMPKIN GROWER: Peter Omonde grew a 60-pound pumpkin on his community garden plot in 2014.

PETER, PETER, PUMPKIN GROWER: Peter Omonde grew a 60-pound pumpkin on his community garden plot in 2014.


Fallow: uncultivated, untilled, unseeded.

That’s going to happen to the community garden adjacent to Warren Field Airport after several years of the garden being productive and helping feed area residents. The lease that allows the land to be used as a community garden expires this month.

“The term of the three-year agreement between the City of Washington and North Carolina State University for the purpose of the Beaufort County Master Gardener Program ends on February 14, 2015. The program currently utilizes City owned property at the Warren Field Airport,” City Manager Brian Alligood wrote in an email.  “NCSU has not requested that the City renew the agreement and based upon a recommendation of the Warren Field Airport Advisory Board, the City is not seeking to renew the agreement at the end of its term.  This recommendation is based upon compliance with FAA grant assurance requirements regarding Warren Field Airport property.”

“The City is supportive of NCSU’s efforts regarding the Master Gardener Program and will work with NCSU on possible alternative locations if it wishes to continue the program on City owned property,” wrote Alligood.

If other land the city owns is determined to be suitable for a community garden, the city would be willing to discuss leasing that land for that purpose, Alligood said in a brief interview after the council’s meeting last week.

That possibility appeals to Jane Anderson.

“I have participated in it since its inauguration, which was in 2009,” Anderson said. “I just happen to enjoy gardening very much, just be able to work in the dirt and be out there in nature — that kind of thing.”

Anderson would like for the community garden to continue elsewhere, if possible, even if that means supervision by and assistance from the entity that owns the land.

“If it could be, like, closer and at a central location where people could come to,” she said about a new site. “It wouldn’t have to be as big as we’ve had it.”

Anderson said the community garden is more than just an agricultural endeavor.

“I just enjoyed being out there because I’ve met some really nice gardeners. We’ve enjoyed talking about what we would grow, what we got out of being (involved with) a community garden,” she said. “I understand why, but I’m just sorry that we’re not going to able to have out plots.”

Rod Gurganus, who supervises the Beaufort County Cooperative Extension Service office, said that for the foreseeable future neither his office or the Beaufort County Master Gardeners will have the personnel and resources to help supervise and manage a community garden, even if a new location for it can be found.

Gurganus said the double-edged blow of the city not renewing the lease for the airport land and his office’s loss of agriculture agent Jacob Searcy last year to another position outside the county and not being able to replace him for budgetary reasons puts the future of the community garden in jeopardy.

“So, when we lost him — and there’s a hope that we get to bring that position back within the grand plan — we can’t do anything until the money on the state side has been made available. There’s a bunch of positions they’re trying to fill, and we’re not very high on the totem pole right now. They’re trying to get agents in counties that don’t have an agent at all,” Gurganus said. “We’re nowhere close to having a second agent. I’m by myself. The problem is that with my duties already, I’m stretched thin even doing that. I don’t have anyone to help with Master Gardeners or the community garden.”

Gurganus said his current duties and workload preclude him from taking a leadership position related to the community garden. He also said that currently the Master Gardeners group is not in a position to help with the community garden.

“I’m saying that I’m not and the Master Gardeners won’t have anything to do with that (community garden) for the foreseeable future. We’ve got to get somebody else in place to oversee all that before we can even go down that road,” Gurganus said about providing assistance to any future community garden.

“It comes down to manpower, and I just don’t have that right now,” he said.

Although Gurganus has concerns about interest in the community garden waning, he believes a community garden, perhaps a smaller one, can prove beneficial to its participants.

“If there’s an agency or organization out there that can bring some land to the table or work with the county or the city to get some land, that would be great. Right now, I’ve just got too much going on, as it is,” Gurganus said.


Roots of the community garden

FEMA lots offer option


The community garden at Warren Field Airport first took root in 2008. It was in the fall of that year when the Beaufort County Master Gardeners approached the city about using land the city owns at the airport for a community garden. The city studied the matter and decided to join the program, which also received support from the local office of the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service.

The city provided a multiple-year lease for the land (just over an acre) to be used for the community garden. Instead of asking the city to waive tap fees for water service to the community garden, program organizers chose to raise money to pay those fees.

The initial plan called for 40 plots at the community garden (80 plots if demand warranted that many). When the community garden first opened, there were 49 plots there. The program provided free water, mulch and advice from garden experts to its participants.

In the years since the community garden at the airport started, other community gardens appeared in places such as Southside High School, the Pantego Community Center and Aurora.

The city has several so-called FEMA lots that can be and have been used for smaller community gardens.

Federal Emergency Management Agency funds were used to purchase the lots, usually found in the 100-year flood plain. The lots in Washington, at least many of them, have a history of being flooded. Instead of repeatedly paying property owners for damages to their properties after floods, earthquakes and other natural disasters, FEMA has a policy that calls for it to buy such lots and to prohibit construction of residential and commercial buildings and permanent structures on the lots. Other uses (such as recreational, gazebos and gardens) of the lots are allowed.

Derek Davis, who lives next to a FEMA lot, likes the idea of FEMA lots being used as community gardens. Last year, Davis grew flowers in the FEMA lot next to his home close to Jack’s Creek.

“It used to be in the past you could rent it from the city for $1 a year. The stipulation on it was you could not put any permanent structure, but anything nonpermanent could be put there, as long as you maintained the property,” he said.

About Mike Voss

Mike Voss is the contributing editor at the Washington Daily News. He has a daughter and four grandchildren. Except for nearly six years he worked at the Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Va., in the early to mid-1990s, he has been at the Daily News since April 1986.
Journalism awards:
• Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service, 1990.
• Society of Professional Journalists: Sigma Delta Chi Award, Bronze Medallion.
• Associated Press Managing Editors’ Public Service Award.
• Investigative Reporters & Editors’ Award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Public Service Award, 1989.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Investigative Reporting, 1990.
All those were for the articles he and Betty Gray wrote about the city’s contaminated water system in 1989-1990.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Investigative Reporting, 1991.
• North Carolina Press Association, Third Place, General News Reporting, 2005.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Lighter Columns, 2006.
Recently learned he will receive another award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Lighter Columns, 2010.
4. Lectured at or served on seminar panels at journalism schools at UNC-Chapel Hill, University of Maryland, Columbia University, Mary Washington University and Francis Marion University.

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