The tallest vegetation in downtown Asheville is almost certainly to be found in the roof garden at the Battery Park Apartments. Residents of the downtown landmark tend herbs, flowers and vegetables as part of a project intiated by the Council On Aging and the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project. Basil, catnip, chives, chocolate mint, dill, lemon balm, lemon grass, rosemary, stevia and thyme flourish amid the rank growth of cukes, beans, eggplant and tomatoes. Various residents have added treasured houseplants as well, giving them a shot of sunshine and rain after years of life on apartment windowsills.
Every Wednesday at 9 a.m., program participants step into the elevator and hit the button labeled RG to ascend to the roof. when she told Xpress, “I love plants,” said two-year Battery Park resident Nancy Whaley while picking dead foliage and checking plants for insect damage. “Years ago my husband took care of our garden, and I took care of the flowers. I find it so relaxing to work with plants.”
Fellow resident Julia Green said she’s extremely sensitive to sunlight and can’t spend much time among the plants, but “I like to come up and tell them what to do. Anytime they tell me they are going to switch to midnight gardening, I’m ready.” Recalling a friend who grew night-blooming sirius and carrion flowers near her home in Miami, Green said such plants might be a good addition to the Asheville project.
Organizer Libby Hinsley works for ASAP as part of Project EMMA (Eat better, Move More, Age well), a joint effort with the Council On Aging. The garden effort, she explained, was funded by a grant to the Council On Aging from the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation. The independent, private charitable nonprofit aims to improve North Carolinians’ health and well-being. Focusing on vulnerable populations, the group supports physical-activity and nutrition programs as well as helping other nonprofits get better organized.
To meet those goals, Hinsley said Project EMMA is doing much more than roof gardening. Beginning Sept. 5, seniors will gather on the steps of the Battery Park building at 3 p.m. each Wednesday for a walk to the tailgate market at the French Broad Food Co-op; in-house events will include making pesto and herbal teas. A field trip to Thatchmore Farm is slated for Tuesday, Sept. 25, as part of Active Aging Week, with transportation provided by Mountain Mobility. People needing transportation must register by Friday, Sept. 7; those with their own wheels have until Sunday, Sept. 16.
The project has also helped link the county’s senior-nutrition program to local farms. The Buncombe County Child Services kitchen, which prepares food for the seniors program, now obtains produce from the Madison Farms program at the Madison County Cooperative Extension Service. Next season, Hinsley said her program plans to sign up with several community-supported-agriculture farms to supply more local produce to seniors. Project EMMA is also working on getting funding from the USDA’s Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program, which is similar to WIC.
Back on the roof, Hinsley said: “Next spring, I hope to find a way to let people plant their own individual plants, to have their own gardens. That would solve some of the inevitable questions about responsibility and ownership that arise in any group project.”
Barbara Britton, who was busy planting peas last Wednesday morning, offered: “I used to have my own garden, and I really enjoy working here. I particularly like miniature roses, because they’re easy to work with.” Asked if she thought her high-flying garden spot was safe from Japanese beetles, she laughed and said, “Maybe so, but the bees and cabbage moths find us, so I would guess the beetles can as well.”
For more information, or to register for the Thatchmore Farm field trip, contact Libby Hinsley at 236-1282.