SCLT’s community garden connects people, food, ideas

Published 10:09pm Thursday, September 5, 2013

Where in Saluda can one find level ground for growing a productive garden, and join others who are interested in, and often very accomplished at, raising crops?

The answer lies along Henderson Street, at the Saluda Community Land Trust’s (SCLT) community garden, with 20-by-20-foot plots served by an ingenuous and effective water distribution system, and a spirit of cooperation and sharing.

SCLT board member Dave Prudhomme explained this garden is a product of board members attending a national gathering in Denver, where community gardening was featured. They returned to Polk County, thinking, ‘Hey, we can do this in Saluda.’

A venture to utilize some promising ground along Howard Gap Road never materialized, but SCLT board members, including current president Nancy Barnett, found this spot, long used for agriculture. Pat Robinson, who owns the tract, wanted to keep it that way so she leased it to the organization.

“The whole idea (of the community garden),” said Prudhomme, “is to serve the community. It’s available to anyone.”

Single plot rental is $30 per year – modest, especially since SCLT prepares the ground (including the addition of calcium) and, in typical years, incurs a water bill from the city.

One example for prospective growers to follow is Walter Hoover, who utilizes succession planting to raise crops throughout much or all of the year.

“You just have to keep going,” explained Hoover. “You have to keep planting.”

That, he said, means knowing the weather preferences of plants. For instance, tomatoes and corn flourish in summer weather. Radishes and lettuces grow better in cooler months. Broccoli can be grown in much of the winter. Hoover began this year’s garden on March 1, when he planted English peas, sugar snaps, radishes and lettuce.

“I had fabulous lettuce in April,” he reported. Hoover, and others, use composted organic matter to enrich the soil naturally. Regardless of one’s overall prowess as a gardener, freak weather conditions can often derail the best of efforts.

While Hoover’s garden is still enviable for most folks, he acknowledges some lessthan- stellar components. Some crops suffered through the region’s heavy rains, which reduced the activity and effectiveness of pollinators.

During typical summers, the watering system, designed by Prudhomme, is a boon for gardeners. Cisterns catch water from nearby rain gutters. That water is pumped into spigots placed at regular intervals around the perimeter of the plots. Gardeners can fill watering cans right by their plot. SCLT members also installed a drip irrigation system, which has not been needed so far this year.

“Dave has done a wonderful job of plumbing,” said Hoover of the catchment and pump system.

Hoover and Prudhomme said the garden and its concept have attracted a diverse population. Some folks who grew up in agricultural areas and relocated here, are motivated by nostalgia to bond with the land by raising food. Hoover also said the garden gives children a chance to see the real source of food.

He noted Rev. Rob Parsons has brought children’s groups to the garden to dig fresh potatoes, and eat them. In addition, said Hoover, “We have several young families with plots, who bring their children.”

Such efforts enable the garden to provide an education, well beyond producing food. Jim and Mary Holman of Saluda have a bountiful plot at the community garden. During the winter, the Holmans raise starter plants, including tomatoes, egg plant and peppers, at home, and donate them to other garden plot renters, who can plant them in the spring.

Hoover, who practices sustainable gardening, smiles when folks ignore its roots.

“We think we (Americans) invented sustainable agriculture,” he said as he recalled his 1980 visit to a commune in China, where waste from livestock was used to grow crops, with efficiency and little waste. Plant waste helped feed the stock.

For more information on the community garden, contact SCLT board members at 828-749-1560.

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