Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Friendship Gardens Provides Fresh, Local Food to the Charlotte Community

by Elizabeth Chatfield Vernier, Office Management Intern

It all started with a void in fresh produce. The local meals-on-wheels program in Charlotte, Friendship Trays, had always relied in part on farmers donating fresh produce, but it wasn't enough. Friendship Gardens was created to fill the void by connecting local backyard gardeners with Friendship Trays.

Kathy Metzo, Friendship Gardens' Development Director, explained that Friendship Trays used to rely on "donations from grocery stores, frozen vegetables, and fresh vegetables from out of state".

The small garden they started out with did not come close to providing 750 meals a day, so they branched out and began adopting community gardens. "Our goal was 16 gardens, but we had 36 gardens in 2 years, and now we have at least 55 gardens," Kathy said. Some adopted gardens were already in existence, and some were assisted by Friendship Gardens from the ground up.

Friendship Gardens supports volunteers in their backyard gardening program every step of the way. From providing free seeds, food safety and garden training to providing a space for friendship and sharing information, participating gardeners have the tools to succeed.

The large garden network enables support and resource sharing among gardens. Potluck meals allow volunteers and gardeners to connect with each other in an informal setting. According to Kathy Metzo, structured workshops give novices a baseline, and those who garden by trial and error learn the science behind gardening.

Even though Friendship Gardens is based on giving, its success is likely due in part to recognizing that gardeners must enjoy their own harvest. Their Homegrown program improves food access for residents of Habitat for Humanity homes by setting up small residential gardens. They use hearty plants for the new gardeners. This way, participants quickly see the fruits of their labor so they will continue gardening.

The same principle is applied to the backyard gardeners. Friendship Gardens encourages garden volunteers to keep some of the harvest themselves in addition to donating a portion of it to Friendship Trays.

As Kathy Metzo puts it, "Last summer I sautéed some vegetables [from her own garden] in a pan: tomato, okra, and zucchini, with a little olive oil, and sprinkled on some mozzarella. It's simple. You feel like no matter what you grow, how awful a gardener you are, no matter how awful your harvest is, you're still feeding yourself. Even if you just have two okras, one tomato and a zucchini half eaten by worms, you can put half of the zucchini in the compost and eat the other half."

Friendship Gardens was a nominee in Toxic Free NC's 1st annual Save a Bee Beehive Giveaway in 2012. With support from The Burt's Bees Greater Good Foundation, we award a beehive and organic gardening support to a NC community garden working on food access issues in our state.

By encouraging organic gardening and promoting pollinator protection we hope to make it possible for community gardens in NC to grow even more healthy, pesticide-free food for their communities.

Find out more about Toxic Free NC's Save a Bee Beehive Giveaway and how you can help protect pollinators and support community gardens near you.

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