Gardeners fret over their charges like nervous mothers: Will it rain enough? Will it rain too much? Will it get too hot? Will there be a late frost?
For the volunteers and staff of Mountain Area Gardeners In Communities, however, the worry hinged on another kind of green: money. On Aug. 4, the 18-year-old organization will shut down due to lack of funds.
“[We] started in 1983 as a small nonprofit … with the purpose of managing community gardens [in the area], and expanded to include educational opportunities for children and adults,” explains MAGIC Board President Linda Blue. MAGIC-aided community gardens have sprouted up as far from downtown Asheville as Hendersonville and Mars Hill, and as close as the Hillcrest public-housing project, she mentions. “But money has been a struggle for years,” Blue reveals. “In the last year or so, a lot of the grant money has dried up, including some we had come to count on, such as funding from United Way. There’s too much competition in the community now for nonprofits … all vying for the same grant money and donations.”
While the organization itself will definitely fold on Aug. 4, the fate of MAGIC’s most visible project — the Environmental Education Center on Pearson Drive, in Montford — remains as uncertain as the weather.
“We’d like to deed [the property] over to another nonprofit that would continue to use it as it was meant to be used — as an educational garden,” says Blue. “We’ve put so much [effort] into developing it.” The half-acre plot — which had been used for years as a kind of general dumping ground — was donated to MAGIC nearly six years ago by the Asheville-Buncombe Community Christian Ministry. Hundreds of hours of volunteer effort were spent clearing away construction debris and sweetening the soil for gardening, Blue emphasizes. MAGIC also built a pavilion and storage shed for the site.
Garden Manager Anita Mattos mentions, “To this day, when we dig, we still pull up crumbled asphalt, metal, old railway ties, lumber and bricks.” But with help from Outward Bound students, Day of Caring volunteers, and local home-schoolers (who recently donated a whole year of service to MAGIC), the vacant lot has been transformed into a thriving educational center, a patch of beauty in the neighborhood, and a hotbed of therapeutic services. Brain-injury patients from Thoms Rehabilitation Hospital, for instance, take weekly field trips to the garden, where they work in its raised beds, flower gardens and vegetable plots, Mattos reports. “Aside from the money issue, things are well with MAGIC,” she observes, expressing hope that the Montford garden will continue in some form.
Executive Director Stebbo Hill adds that other MAGIC programs have included daylong clinics and seminars for adults, as well as educational projects to supplement kids’ science curricula at Emma, Hall Fletcher and Isaac Dickson elementary schools. Most recently, MAGIC developed the Garden Science Apprenticeship Program — which puts junior-high students to work in the Montford educational garden, learning where food comes from and how to grow it. And last year, according to Hill, MAGIC helped more than 100 local families grow their own food and supplement their incomes with the fruits of their gardens.
“I quit what I was doing to take this job,” says Victoria Maddux, a former third-grade teacher who’s been MAGIC’s education director for the past several years. “Kids don’t get enough science education in school. [At the Montford garden], they’re creating the environment. They can see entire mini-ecosytems form. And the junior-high kids [in our apprentice program] could be home watching TV all summer, but they keep coming out to the garden.” The apprentice program, in particular, could possibly be funded by its current grant into the year 2001 — if MAGIC can pass the program on to a group or organization willing to keep the garden going, Maddux suggests.
In addition to the funding shortage, MAGIC has recently suffered staffing problems and the loss of the office space it once shared with the Manna Food Bank. “We couldn’t survive [all] that,” Hill laments. “And all the options and projects we considered [to remedy the situation] would have cost too much money up front and been too risky.” In the past year, Hill explains, MAGIC has found itself in a kind of Catch-22 predicament: Rumors that MAGIC was going under led to the loss of funds, and vice versa.
Hill says he plans to ensure that MAGIC finishes in the black and resolves the question of what to do with the Montford educational garden by Aug. 4. To that end, MAGIC will hold a community forum to discuss the future of the Montford site on Wednesday, July 12; on Saturday, July 15, a closing fund-raiser will take place in conjunction with the annual Full Moon Garden Party, to be held at the home of Xpress “Wild Gardener” columnist Peter Loewer. Says Hill, “[Loewer’s] got all those great night-blooming flowers to look at, and [partygoers] will also get to tour John Cram’s garden, once the home of [well-known landscaper] Doan Ogden. Hopefully, we can get enough [participants] to pay off our last bills.”
Concludes Mattos: “I hope we can find someone to use the [Montford] garden to the best of its potential. It’s a place of beauty.”
The July 12 forum will be held at MAGIC’s office at the Kenilworth Presbyterian Church Fellowship Hall (123 Kenilworth Road at 5:30 p.m. Those interested in participating should call Hill at 255-7887. The Full Moon Garden Party is scheduled for 7-9 p.m. on July 15, at 185 Lakewood Drive in Kenilworth. Tickets cost $20 in advance (available at B.B. Barnes, Malaprop’s, the Captain’s Bookshelf and the French Broad Food Co-op), or $25 at the garden gate. Advance tickets may also be purchased from MAGIC via credit card. Call 255-7887 for more info.