More than 34,000 Buncombe County residents have limited or uncertain access to the food they need, according to statistics compiled by the Southeastern University Consortium on Hunger, Poverty and Nutrition.
Rather than feeling daunted by the scope of the problem, gardeners and organizations across the region have been getting their hands dirty growing food to help their neighbors.
In order to coordinate efforts, share knowledge and identify resources, local growers have collaborated for the better part of a decade as the Western N.C. Alliance of Gardens That Give.
With the spring growing season quickly approaching, the organization is seeking new members and inviting those who are interested to attend the group’s next quarterly meeting on Monday, April 16. The new recruits will join 23 active member gardens, as well as five food distribution organizations.
Susan Sides, the garden manager and program director of The Lord’s Acre in Fairview, is one of the founders of Gardens That Give. In addition to its member gardens, she says, the group has roughly 80 like-minded contacts on its email list. “Some people are just paying attention,” she says. “They might never go to meetings, but they’re seeing how it connects to what they do.”
Gardens That Give offers participants a space to interact with people from a variety of backgrounds who share a common goal. “These gardens aren’t just to give away food,” Sides notes. “These [are] really intentional spaces — venues for bringing people who are very diverse together in a space where they can work together.”
While the network is robust, Sides says Gardens That Give is always looking for “anyone that’s interested in coming to see what we’re doing, seeing if they can glean something from it, or add something to it or partner with us.”
Fledgling garden operations can benefit from the knowledge of those who are more seasoned. “Gardens that come on now have such a better chance of being successful and doing good work more quickly, because they can learn so much so quickly from all the mistakes that we all have made,” says Sides.
New members can also bolster the group’s ability to work with partner organizations and meet food security needs year-round, as well as diversify the types of crops and learning experiences Gardens That Give can offer the community.
According to Nicole Mahshie, a staff member at Hendersonville’s Veterans Healing Farm, “The Gardens That Give meetings are always informative, encouraging and offer a space to share ideas and problem solve collectively with like-minded people.”
Sides says the group can benefit from many different skill sets. “We can work with artists, musicians; we can work with spreadsheet people,” she notes. “Just about anyone interested in this kind of work.”
“Everyone’s getting something from these gardens,” says Sides. “This is a way that folks can get involved with dealing with food access that might be easier for some people to do.”
For more information, visit avl.mx/4t7 or search for Gardens That Give on Facebook.