Essie Silvers connects Oakley’s tailgate market and community garden

Essie Silver is a community organizer, founding member of the Oakley Farmers Market and manager of the Oakley Community Garden. Photo by Carrie Eidson

It was midwinter of 2012, and most Asheville residents hadn’t yet turned their thoughts to ripe tomatoes and summer squash. But Essie Silvers and a handful of her neighbors had a mission to bring a farmers market to their food-insecure East Asheville community — and that was how the Oakley Farmers Market was born.

Having spent 25 years as an internal organizational consultant and leadership coach for the Social Security Administration in Baltimore, Silvers knew exactly what she could contribute to this fledgling grassroots effort.
“One of the things I knew I could bring to the market was the startup organization aspect,” she says. “I have a strong background in business and helping people get started with things, so that was really helpful in the beginning.”

But the tailgate market isn’t Silvers’ only endeavor. She’s also the volunteer manager of the Oakley Community Garden, the market’s partner which borders the parking lot at Oakley United Methodist Church, where the market is held.

Although she was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and suffers from chronic pain and fatigue, Silvers says she contributes five to six hands-on volunteer hours per week helping Oakley Farmers Market manager Carly Esslinger during marketing season. She also labors between eight and 15 hours per week in the garden during the growing season.

But the schedule is too much, and this year Silver is launching a plan for a change. “This is the challenge of anything that requires volunteer energy: What we’re lacking is feet on the ground,” she says.

Silvers created a work plan for the 900-square-foot, no-till garden that will incorporate the help of volunteer coordinators on scheduled weekly workdays. “We are actively working to make this a true community garden where all are welcomed to help and enjoy,” she says.

She hopes that finding additional volunteers to share the workload at both the market and the garden will free her up to organize more garden-based educational programs for children, seniors and the differently abled.

In the end, she says, both the market and the garden are about growing community. “My heart really cares about it,” she says. “Honestly, I’m all about community.”

Gina Smith serves on the board of directors for the Oakley Farmers Market.

The 2015 Get It! Guide is available on stands Tuesday, March 17.


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