He had taken the morning to plant rows of bush beans and okra in his newly acquired space at Cane Creek Community Garden, which has become popular enough among locals that a waiting list has developed for boxes at the facility operated by the Calhoun County Extension Service.
Now, with spring in the air, community gardens are cropping up all over Anniston.
Two new nonprofit-based gardens are looking to duplicate the success of Cane Creek, which is now in its fourth full year of operation and has grown from 12 boxes to 16 organic boxes and 36 conventional boxes, with 12 more under construction, according to David West, extension coordinator for the county.
Joe Jankoski, executive director of the Calhoun County Community Development Corporation, has been working to transform an abandoned car wash adjacent to his office into a community garden to serve the residents of west Anniston.
The CDC’s project will follow the model of Cane Creek, where residents can take over a box to plant flowers or vegetables.
“We want to give people in our community access to fresh, healthy produce,” Jankoski said, adding that the project can serve multiple purposes. He said there is potential to give participants healthier diets, which could help “make a dent” in endemic diet-related diseases that affect the community.
There is even the potential for participants to sell excess crops at the farmer’s market, he said.
The West 10th Street location is served by the Areawide Community Transportation System, which he hopes will make the site accessible to potential gardeners.
With the help of volunteers, Jankoski has been able to begin reclaiming the site, cutting car wash bays down to 3 feet tall, cleaning out an old pump building and readying the location for the next phase of work.
Initial sign-ups show about 45 people interested in taking on a box, which they will rent for a nominal fee, Jankoski said.
His goal is to begin with 12 boxes, which he plans to begin building this month with grant money, private funds and lumber donated from a local saw mill.
At a plot of land across 15th Street from Interfaith Ministries, the setup is a bit different. Earlier this month, local farmer Steve Chapman brought his tractor to town and broke ground for a garden that will serve the organization’s clients and the community.
Martha Vandervoort, executive director at Interfaith, said that when the organization provides services to the homeless through its Open Door program, their clients often like to give back through volunteering. The plot of land being prepared for planting next week will give them a chance to do that while also reaping the benefits of their work.
Participants don’t have to be Interfaith clients to dig in on the project, though. Vandervoort has invited neighborhood residents to tend the soil and pick what they’ll use.
“We really hope the community will buy into it,” she said.
Eventually, Vandervoort hopes to have a tool shed built at the back of the property, complete with picnic table and a spot to serve snacks and perform a morning devotional three days a week.
“It’s sort of evolving as it goes,” she said. “A lot of neat people are coming together.”
Most of the vegetables are being donated to the project, and Vandervoort expects to plant a basic vegetable garden that includes corn, squash, beans, cucumbers, tomatoes and possibly bell peppers. Blueberries will be planted at the bottom of the garden to prevent erosion on the sloping site.
The development of these gardens fits right into Councilwoman Millie Harris’ vision of a progressive, sustainable Anniston.
“That’s exactly what we want to do,” said Harris, who has supported a recent smoking ban in public places as well as policy changes to make beekeeping easier inside city limits. And she wants to see more such measures in the course of her term.
“By promoting community gardens, our city has the opportunity to create a healthier culture, cultivate neighborly friendships and make good food accessible, while increasing self-sufficiency,” Harris said.
She said she’s not sure if the city can help the private entities locate funding sources or if the city could just provide policy support. “That’s something we need to look into further,” she said.
The core of these projects is a move to take abandoned sites and turn them into community resources.
“If we can do that here and maybe a couple other places in the community,” Jankoski said, “maybe we can start to make change.”
Staff writer Paige Rentz: 256-235-3564. On Twitter @PRentz_Star.