August 2015
Homeplace & Community

An Idea Blossoms

 
  The entrance to Thomasville’s Community Garden invites everyone to stroll and enjoy the beauty of the garden.

Thomasville’s Community Garden unites those who love gardening and makes the residents healthier, too.

What makes a community healthy? A friend once told Karen Dean that visitors to a community could tell if a community might be "healthy" or "lazy" by the number of walking trails, bike trails and community gardens in that city. Shortly thereafter, Dean visited her daughter at the Savannah School of Art and Design in Savannah, Ga., and the school’s garden caught her eye. Using recyclable materials, the students had made garden beds to grow fresh produce used in their cafeteria. They had also used recyclables to build benches and other attractive artwork to make the area inviting and comfortable.

 
Meeting at Gaston’s Grill for breakfast, Thomasville’s Karen Dean and Amy Prescott planned the Community Garden on napkins. They drew the original layout on their “napkin notes.”  

Dean, who serves as the Artistic Director for the Arts Council of Thomasville, remembered her friend’s words.

"I knew that we already had walking trails in Thomasville, but, I thought, if we just added a community garden, at least we could be a ‘healthier’ city!" she laughed.

Ever on the lookout to make Thomasville a better place to live, Dean shared her idea for a community garden with her friend, Amy Prescott, the director of the Thomasville Chamber of Commerce. Prescott believed the garden could be a valuable educational and recreational opportunity that the community might support.

Prescott and Dean approached Mayor Sheldon Day, who also liked the idea. Day agreed to let the group use a plot of unused city land adjacent to Clay Park in downtown Thomasville. Prescott and Dean met for breakfast one morning and wrote their ideas on a napkin. The layout for the garden area was even drawn on Prescott’s "napkin notes."

The first step for the Chamber Board was to establish the Thomasville Garden Committee that set guidelines for the project and oversaw implementation. The group’s main goal was to get participants to work together to plant, harvest and enjoy the fresh produce. However, committee members soon realized the garden could provide many other benefits. First, it would give participants another way to exercise and eat better, improving overall health. Second, sharing planting and harvesting knowledge would be a way to bridge the generations working together in the garden. Third, the garden’s vacant lot would now become much more attractive with the addition of green plants and flowers, helping to improve the downtown Clay Park area.

 
  The Thomasville Alabama Chamber of Commerce Ambassadors helped with building the garden. They also planted a plot and helped with the Grand Opening. TACC Ambassadors pictured here are (from left) Keandea Burroughs, John Tyler Megginson, Dakota Baswell and Rebecca Etheridge.

For the first year, committee members decided to build 20 raised boxes that would be rented for $20 and maintained by the gardeners. Many individuals, groups, organizations and businesses pitched in to help. Some gave money; others volunteered their time. Most of the materials for the raised beds were donated. City employees and workers from Life Tech, the transitional correctional center, supplied the labor. Thomasville High School’s Welding class made the plates to hold the arbor.

"The gentlemen, who work for the city, were down there every day working on the project," Prescott said. "They did a fantastic job! When they began to come up with ideas to help with the aesthetics, I realized this had truly become a community project. They really put their hearts into the project."

Prescott and Dean wanted the area to be appealing to all visitors. Their design called for spacious plots that would allow people to move easily throughout the area. They planned for a large fountain to serve as the focal point. Walmart helped by discounting one of its fountains and the Thomasville Arts Council purchased it for the garden. The Dravitan Club landscaped the area around the fountain. A lattice-covered entrance was built to welcome visitors into the garden area. The wooden crossties around the garden were laid so that draping plants could be added to enhance the decor.

Dean has visions of adding even more to the garden in the future. She hopes to hang a large wind chime to provide soothing sounds as people work in this peaceful area. She also plans to display some local garden art, created by Thomasville’s many talented artists.

 
Kevane Tucker and Kristin Woods brought along some fresh vegetables for customers to purchase.  

One group that purchased a box was the Thomasville Public Library. Librarian Gina Wilson and her staff used the theme "Reading makes the mind bloom!" Their goal was to combine gardening with reading and art.

"Our garden is there to say, ‘Hey, slow down and feed your mind from time to time .... READ!’ Flowers were planted simply because they are beautiful and restful. Everyone involved voted to give the vegetables to the Thomasville Salvation Army Food Bank. We will replant in the fall and keep the garden going year round," Wilson noted.

Many children joined in to create the garden, shoveling rocks and dirt, laying mulch and then planting boxes.

"I have heard some of the kids who worked on the garden saying, ‘I helped with that. Doesn’t it look good?’ as proudly as they could," Prescott explained. "Having ownership in their community and being a part of growing their community instills a sense of pride and ownership in the minds of our children," she added.

"Our community garden is truly diverse," Wilson stated. "It doesn’t know age, gender or race. It’s just a bunch of folks sharing their love of gardening. Every time I am at the garden, I see others there and get to know them better."

 
  The grand opening for the Community Garden was held on May 2. Al Benjamin, kneeling, who works for the City of Thomasville, cut the ribbon.

Another idea the Chamber tried was its first Farmers’ Market. Both local and area farmers and vendors brought their crops and food items to Clay Park, near the Garden area, on June 13.

"By having the Farmers’ Market in Clay Park, we wanted to raise awareness of the Community Garden," Prescott added.

The event was a big success, with visitors purchasing fresh vegetables, canned goods and home-baked items. Many visited the Community Garden for the first time, and their comments indicated that they were impressed. The Chamber decided to continue Market Day every two weeks during the summer growing season.

"We do plan to increase the garden area and, currently, we have a waiting list for boxes as they become available," Prescott added. "All and all, I feel like this garden has been a huge success, and I feel it will continue to grow along with our community!"

For more information about Thomasville’s Community Garden, contact the Thomasville Chamber of Commerce at thomasvillealchamber.com.

Thomasville Alabama Chamber of Commerce

P.O. Box 44

138 Wilson Ave.

Thomasville, AL 36784

Phone: 334 636-1542

Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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Carolyn Drinkard is a freelance writer from Thomasville.