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Driving by Church Street, the single-story white house next to the First Baptist Church of Morrisville looks unremarkable. But behind the house sits a treasure trove of fresh herbs and vegetables planted and maintained by the members of the Morrisville Community Garden.
The garden, which has just completed its first year, has reached another milestone: The Morrisville Town Council recently approved a three-year lease on a 1/4 acre site at 219 Church St.
The new $1 per year lease agreement will allow the group to go after a Nourishing North Carolina grant funded by Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina and the N.C. Recreation & Park Association. The grant program aims to establish a community garden in all 100 counties by the end of 2013.
Up to $3,000 is available per county to help gardens buy supplies.
The funding would be a boon for the Morrisville Community Garden, which relies on membership dues and donations to put up fencing, buy dirt, pay for irrigation and purchase equipment.
Insurance liability by itself costs the garden about $800 a year, said garden President Donna Willard.
In its first year, the garden has done three seasonal plantings, donated to the Interfaith Food Shuttle, hosted students from Sterling Montessori and provided other community outreach opportunities at the Western Wake Farmers’ Market.
It’s also given gardeners like Willard a place to show off their green thumbs.
Willard, who lives in a condominium, said she doesn’t have room for a garden, but she loves fresh produce.
She goes to the community garden a few times a week, scooping up fresh veggies like beets and lettuce.
“When you’ve picked it fresh as it’s come up versus at the store it makes a big difference,” Willard said. “Most of us that come here love playing in the dirt, putting a seed in the ground and watching it come up.”
Even her grandchildren are getting their hands dirty.
“I’ve been bringing my grandchildren here since day one,” Willard said. “It makes a difference when they can put something in the ground; it makes them more likely to eat it.”
One of the goals for the garden’s second year is to attain nonprofit status. The group filed its application in January, Willard said.
Members pay $60 a year and dedicate a minimum of two volunteer hours a month to the garden. There are no dedicated beds, so each member works on the garden as a whole.
Some inexperienced members are paired with expert gardeners. Each member can take home food from the garden, and the extra is donated.
In one year, members have managed to plant and harvest a variety of produce, including corn, peppers, mustard seeds, artichokes, potatoes, cabbage, lettuce, blueberries, strawberries, peas, broccoli, squash and spinach.
Garden coordinator Don Edwards, who is studying horticulture at N.C. State University, has overseen some of the plantings this year.
“If someone shows up with some seeds, we try to find a place to plant them,” he said. “At a community garden you never know what is going to happen next. It’s a great deal of fun.”
This year, the garden will focus on producing more of the most popular vegetables, such as corn, okra and broccoli, Edwards said.
All of the garden’s plantings are pesticide-free.
For more information about the Morrisville Community Garden, or to join, visit groups.yahoo.com/group/Wormturners or www.facebook.com/groups/morrisvillecommunitygarden.