A tract of land once used as a dirt bike race track, littered with trash and old car parts, now serves as a garden providing residents with fresh produce.
The Village Community Garden, a 5-acre farm and lake located in Sylvester, opened in 2016. The garden is the result of a collaborative effort between the city of Sylvester, the Worth County School System and Fort Valley State University’s Cooperative Extension and 4-H program.
Sam X, project coordinator of the garden, said the city of Sylvester donated the land for the development of a community garden. Members of the community and 4-H students maintain the garden.
“The purpose of this garden is to bring people together, empower them and make sure they have healthy food,” X said.
In order to meet the demand for fresh produce, the garden uses aeroponic towers that requires air and moisture instead of soil to grow crops harvested every 30 days. Produce grown traditionally in the ground use a method incorporating black plastic covering soil to extend growing time. The garden is also populated with fruit trees, a banana farm, a vineyard and a bee farm used to harvest honey.
More than 1,000 Sylvester households receive produce from the garden at no cost.
Faye Allen, 63, a lifelong resident of Sylvester, said the garden is a big plus for the community. “The community garden just doesn’t help people in Sylvester, it helps everybody that comes that needs it. You’re welcome to whatever is in the garden no matter who you are,” she said. “I fell in love with the garden the first time I saw it. I told them whatever I can do for the garden, let me know,” she said.
The garden also serves as a means for youth in Sylvester to learn about agriculture with an educational twist.
Eda Garcia, wife of Sam X, is co-founder of the Village Community Garden and a grant writer. She said she approached Woodie Hughes Jr., FVSU assistant Extension administrator state 4-H program leader, to seek the program’s involvement because it exposes young people to higher education and agriculture.
“We have a lot of young people of color here without many opportunities, and agriculture, located in one of the most extraordinary growing regions of the country provides those opportunities,” Garcia said. She said that by performing such tasks as building fences, understanding aeroponic tower technology and installing irrigation systems, youths are learning applicable skills needed in agriculture.
Furthermore, X said the garden’s impact on the community is tremendous.
Carolyn Evans, 55, owns a laundry service in Sylvester and is a frequent visitor of the garden. “I’ve been back-and-forth, begging and taking stuff from them,” Evans said jokingly “It’s been a big help to me because I like to cook and it has all the things I need,” she said. Evans added that to avoid the hassle of shopping at the grocery store, she heads to the garden.
Additionally, the Sylvester resident said people in the community really appreciate the garden. “It’s great. We don’t have adequate grocery stores like other towns and cities around us. It’s a good thing to drive up to the garden and see people pick fresh vegetables with a smile on their face,” Evans said.
The southwest Georgia native said getting most of her vegetables for free is economical, because on Wednesday nights she feeds up to 30 community residents from her home.
“I do it on Wednesday because people have Bible study and they don’t have time to go home and cook,” Evans said. She said if she were to go to a grocery store to purchase vegetables for her mid-week feast, she would spend $25-$40.
Along with providing fresh produce, the garden also serves as a place to promote healthy lifestyles. Dr. Marilyn Carter, an internal medicine physician with more than 25 years of experience, conducts seminars at the community garden. She shares the benefits of eating fresh foods to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
“Good nutrition is the cornerstone of good health. We already know through multiple studies that a diet high in fiber, which includes fruits and vegetables, can be used to treat a lot of medical conditions, particularly chronic illnesses such as diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer and arthritis,” Carter said.
According to Carter, some residents have informed her that adding fresh fruits and vegetables to their diets helped them feel better and have more energy. She said the battle against a fast food market is tough, but repetitive education about healthy dieting is having a positive effect on residents. “I have enough scientific data to show that your eating does impact your health,” Carter said.
For more information about the Village Community Garden, email X at firstname.lastname@example.org.