Master Gardeners seek fertile ground: MANNA FoodBank’s expansion sends Master Gardeners searching for a new plot

Gardeners without a garden: Extension Master Gardeners tended to this demonstration garden at MANNA FoodBank for over a decade. The group will focus on indoor classes as it searches for a new site. Photo courtesy of Buncombe County Agricultural Extension Office.
Gardeners without a garden: Extension Master Gardeners tended to this demonstration garden at MANNA FoodBank for over a decade. The group will focus on indoor classes as it searches for a new site. Photo courtesy of Buncombe County Agricultural Extension Office.

For the past 15 years, the Buncombe County Extension Master Gardeners have cared for a small plot of vegetables, herbs and flowers outside MANNA FoodBank. The space served as a demonstration garden for the Extension Master Gardeners’ educational programs and provided about 300 pounds of fresh produce to MANNA each year.

This year the garden will be bare. MANNA is going through a physical expansion and needs the space for increased food storage and distribution. The Extension Master Gardeners were informed at the end of last fall’s growing season that they would need to be out of the space by spring of 2014. MANNA offered the Extension Master Gardeners access to other spots on the property, but the EMGs decided to search for a new location.

The demonstration site at MANNA was a gathering place for volunteers and the public for over a decade. EMG volunteers offered classes on everything from growing tomatoes to gardening into old age at the site. Volunteers got their hands dirty and encouraged the public to take ideas and techniques from the demonstration garden back to their own neighborhoods.

“Sometimes the easiest teaching tool is the physical doing and showing,” says EMG volunteer Mary Ann Snedeker. “You can look at the soil and you can see what’s done to it and how it may look different, as opposed to just reading about it.”

The Extension Master Gardeners will continue to offer a robust series of indoor classes at the Buncombe County Extension Center in downtown Asheville. However, the EMGs will not have an outdoor demonstration garden this year.

“While we would have loved to have already found a site and be getting it ready for this year’s season, we are in no way held to a specific timeline,” says Snedeker. “When the opportunity and the right site presents itself, we will just jump in and get going.”

The ideal spot would include many of the things on every gardener’s wish list: a sunny, level plot with access to water. The Extension Master Gardeners want to develop the garden over the coming decades, so finding a location that can make a long-term commitment is essential.

EMG volunteers envision a space that goes beyond vegetable cultivation. They hope to include shade and evergreen gardens, a horticultural therapy program and a youth garden, all on about half an acre. They also want the garden to be accessible with parking for volunteers and students with mobility issues. An adjacent classroom space would be ideal, says Snedeker.

The EMGs reached out to the Buncombe County Parks and Recreation Department but have not been able to find a suitable location. The group also looked into smaller family-run plots but hasn’t found a space that suits its needs. Ideally, the new garden would be in a neighborhood where the public can stop by for tours and classes.

The Buncombe County Extension Master Gardeners are actively seeking suggestions for potential garden locations. The public is invited to contact mizmag387@gmail.com with ideas. To find out more about the EMG program visit http://buncombe.ces.ncsu.edu/BuncombeCountyMasterGardeners

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