Isa Whitaker builds community resilience through gardening

Isa Whitaker
DIG FOR VICTORY: As COVID-19 impacts Western North Carolina, Isa Whitaker says he's seeing increased interest in community gardening in his role with Bountiful Cities. Photo by Luke Van Hine

Isa Whitaker is up to his elbows in gardens this spring. As coordinator of Bountiful Cities’ Asheville Buncombe Community Garden Network, he manages communication, educational programming and resources such as free seed and tool libraries for more than two dozen local gardening efforts.

The network ranges from small plots tended in private yards to elementary school gardens to larger neighborhood endeavors like West Asheville’s Burton Street Community Peace Gardens. And membership is poised to expand. After COVID-19 began impacting life in Western North Carolina, Whitaker has seen an increase in the number of local residents interested in starting new community gardens.

“Since this whole pandemic emerged, I think there are a lot of people that are out there just trying to put some seeds in the ground and get growing,” Whitaker says. He likens the trend to the victory garden movement, which encouraged citizens during World War I and World War II to cultivate gardens in backyards, vacant lots and other available spaces.

“I wouldn’t put the responsibility on a community garden to feed everybody, but they do have that potential,” Whitaker says. And, he adds, they nourish neighborhoods in other ways, “whether it’s having a safe space to go or a place you can just roam about and look at beautiful scenery.”

Whitaker urges those considering starting a community garden to be sure they have plenty of hands-on support. “I often recommend for people not to take that on by themselves,” he says. “Maybe have three or four people who are sharing those responsibilities.”

But initiating such a project, he says, is a worthy endeavor. “Especially in times like this — in emergency situations — it’s important for people to realize how important it is to grow our own food. Some would say it’s a rebellious or revolutionary act.”

For more on the Asheville Buncombe Community Garden Network, see the “Programs” tab at bountifulcities.org.

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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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