Growing a community

It takes a village to raise a garden
By Jessi Stone Assistant editor | Apr 04, 2014
Photo by: Jessi Stone June Johnson of Maggie Valley helps place flags in the field behind Maggie Valley UMC to show where fruit trees will be planted.

When June Johnson of Maggie Valley looks out over the green fields behind Maggie Valley United Methodist Church, she doesn’t just see what’s there — she sees what could be.

She sees rows of fruit trees, honeybees, raised flowerbeds and grapevines. Johnson and the many volunteers who have signed up to assist with a community garden effort envision being able to feed hundreds of people in need through church feeding programs.

Since a first meeting was held last month to gauge interest, more than 70 people, businesses and organizations have stepped up to offer time, expertise, labor, monetary donations, and/or the purchase of gardening materials.

Johnson, a retired teacher, has been involved with beautification efforts in Maggie for many years, and what would make Maggie more beautiful than having community gardens all over town?


The planting plan

Maggie Valley United Methodist Church is allowing the gardeners to use some of its public park property behind the church to plant fruit trees and build beehives, raised beds and grapevines. The Henry family gave the property to the church in memory of Ms. Henry, who taught at the Maggie School for 45 years.

The plan is to plant four cherry trees and 10 apple trees with varieties of fruit meant for cooking and eating. To accompany the trees will be beehives, raised beds with bee-attracting plants and rows of grapevines.

With several of the local churches already feeding more than 150 people each week, Johnson said the goal was to be able to use the locally grown produce to help even more people in the community.

“Everything will be used to prepare meals,” she said.

Maggie Valley First Baptist Church is also getting involved by donating about one-fourth an acre to the community garden effort. That plot will be used to grow different varieties of tomatoes, potatoes, herbs and other companion plant — mainstays of that church’s feeding program.

Resident Ernestine Upchurch has volunteered half an acre around her home to be used to grow potatoes and companion plants. There also will be a pumpkin and melon patch grown on Gwen and Randy Evans’ farm.

Individuals and businesses have purchased fruit trees in memory of loved ones, and several Maggie Valley Chamber of Commerce members purchased enough fruit trees to start an orchard this year. Johnson said the plan was to plant the trees this spring, but after further consideration, the trees will be planted in the fall to avoid irrigation costs through the summer months.

The plowing of the tomato, potato and pumpkin gardens will take place next week. Grace-in-the-Mountains Episcopal Church has provided seed potatoes for the potato patch as well as a box of seeds.

Volunteers are attempting to start the vegetables, flowers and herbs from seed in order to save money and assure organic practice. Johnson said the gardeners hope to use only best organic practices in all of the gardens.

Fortunately, the Haywood County Library System, the Cooperative Extension Office, the Tourist Development Authority and regional community garden outreach programs offer many educational classes pertaining to organic gardening and best practice.

Businesses will bloom

The volunteers also hope to get area businesses involved in the effort in return for some beautification services. The flower gardeners will design a plan, the business will pay for the plants and the gardeners will plant and provide upkeep of the flowers throughout summer and autumn.

Organizers hope to have the 6-mile, Soco Road strip awash in Ms. Maggie's colors, which are bright red, golden yellow, green and white accents.

“Any business that donates to us, we will get flowers planted in front of their business,” Johnson said. “We can design it and the town (public works department) can plant them.”

She hopes the town will coordinate with the effort by planting flowers in the medians, at town hall and at both ends of the valley.

“If we have a common palette, with various plants and designs, we will create a sense of place for travelers, businesses, and residents,” a community garden press release stated. “This is a core concept of what is called branding a community.”

Johnson said more than $1,200 in donations had come in already, which will go toward purchasing three or four beehives to be placed within the orchard. Discussion has also begun on the building of grape trellises.


Community support

Whether they are donating land, seeds, trees or other supplies needed to get the gardens started, everyone seems to be supporting the effort.

Maggie Valley Alderman Janet Banks has gotten involved and sees the potential impact of a project like this.

“This effort is designed to foster community spirit, provide activities for interested people and residents as well as provide long term nourishment for individuals as well as people in need,” she said. “It also is the first step in a long term goal of the Board of Alderman to provide an attractive spaces in the town that people would walk to, stop, look at, and visit with their neighbors or visitors.”

Maggie Valley Town Manager Nathan Clark said he was extremely excited about the community garden efforts and looks forward to the town partnering with the volunteers.

“It is no surprise that June Johnson is a driving force behind this project because of the sincere love she has for her town and her neighbors,” Clark said. “I think successful community gardens have permanent functions that provide a number of benefits to individuals, families and community in which it is located.”

The Growing A Community Steering Committee has been formed, and will become the advisory group for future efforts. Individuals in this committee are representative of the broad base of interest expressed in this effort. Future meetings will be held throughout Maggie Valley and the surrounding area. If you have interest in any aspect of the community gardening program, email or call 828-734-1294.