Bounty & Soul’s U Grow initiative blossoms into a community celebration

GARDEN VARIETY: Volunteers help hand out garden plants and soil to Bounty & Soul clients at one of last year's Dig Day gatherings. This year, the Black Mountain nonprofit will host a single U Grow Community Dig Day event Saturday, May 19, with vendors and free workshops and activities open to all area residents. Photo courtesy of Bounty & Soul

For almost four years, Black Mountain nonprofit Bounty & Soul has worked to empower its food-insecure clients to grow their own fresh vegetables through its U Grow gardening program. As this year’s growing season kicks off, Bounty & Soul coalesces U Grow’s efforts into a single, communitywide event, the U Grow Community Dig Day, on Saturday, May 19.

A partnership with Black Mountain Recreation and Parks’ Eat Smart Black Mountain nutrition and gardening initiative, U Grow has taken a variety of forms since it launched as a pilot program in 2014. “It’s kind of evolved organically — pardon the pun — with the needs of the community,” says Ali Casparian, Bounty & Soul founder and director of programs.

In its initial manifestation, the program focused on building raised garden beds for families and pairing new growers with a gardening mentor to provide guidance and support through the season. “But we quickly realized we were only able to impact six to eight families a year, and there was so much more desire in the community to grow,” says Casparian.

Organizers also discovered that many of the area’s food-insecure clients faced space restrictions that made raised beds impractical. “Some lived in mobile homes or apartments or didn’t have enough yard for a garden, which excluded them, so we came up with container gardening,” Casparian explains.

So last year, Bounty & Soul paired the effort with its existing mobile market program, which delivers free produce plus wellness and nutrition classes to locations in Black Mountain and Swannanoa. Twice — in spring and fall — the markets hosted events for market clients that included free plant starts, materials and education.

That approach was successful by the numbers, says Casparian, with 75-100 people receiving the free plants and supplies. However, hauling the plants, soil and containers to the locations proved to be prohibitive. “Logistically it was a mess,” she says.

This year’s U Grow Community Dig Day not only brings all the supplies and activities to one spot — the green space outside Bounty & Soul’s Black Mountain offices — but also opens the event to the broader community. Bounty & Soul clients will be able to pick up their free plants and soil (donated from Banner Greenhouses in Nebo) using tickets obtained from the mobile markets. Other community members can buy affordably priced plant starts and a variety of other items from vendors including Mellie Mac’s Garden Shack, Fermenti, Buncombe Botanicals and Green River Booch.

The afternoon event will also feature a full roster of free workshops on topics such as cultivating oyster mushrooms and cordyceps, making kombucha and bone broth, and backyard foraging. For kids, there will be gardening demonstrations, face painting and a pop-up playground from Asheville Adventure Play. Casparian says she also hopes to have musicians at the event and welcomes interested artists to contact her for more information.

WHAT: U Grow Community Dig Day
WHERE: Swannanoa Valley Medical Center, 997 Old U.S. Highway 70 W., Black Mountain
WHEN: 1-4 p.m. Saturday, May 19

For more information, visit bountyandsoul.org or call 828-419-0533.

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About Gina Smith
Gina Smith is the Mountain Xpress Food section editor and writer. She can be reached at gsmith@mountainx.com.

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