Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina (BCBSNC) has awarded the Macon County Community Garden a grant through Nourishing North Carolina, a statewide community garden effort making local, healthy food more accessible to people across the state. In June 2011, BCBSNC launched the program in partnership with the North Carolina Recreation and Park Association (NCRPA) to create or enhance community gardens in all 100 North Carolina counties.
“This grant will allow us to improve our garden so we can continue to provide fresh, local produce for people in the community and encourage healthy eating habits,” said Alan Durden, Macon County Cooperative Extension Director. “We are proud to be part of the Nourishing North Carolina network. Our garden not only provides healthy food, it also provides a safe area for our neighbors to work together, share a public green space and be physically active through gardening.”
North Carolinians continue to face serious health issues, and the state’s obesity rates remain at alarming levels. In fact, nearly twothirds of adults in North Carolina are overweight or obese due to unhealthy eating and physical inactivity, which is above the national average. Community gardens are just one targeted but impactful way to address health issues across North Carolina.
“Communities across North Carolina are embracing this initiative and rolling up their sleeves to help North Carolinians eat better and live healthier lives. This is important work that reaches far beyond the growing season,” said Brad Wilson, BCBSNC president and CEO.
The Macon County Community Garden was conceived in 2009 as a result of public input at a meeting of the Macon County Board of Commissioners. Commissioner Ronnie Beale took the lead and contacted Alan Durden with North Carolina Cooperative Extension and Mike Breedlove with Macon County Soil and Water Conservation Service. These three selected and contacted five other Macon citizens, with an interest in the establishment of a community garden, to serve with them as a guiding committee. Over the next year, the committee planned and prepared and in the spring of 2010 the Macon County Community Garden opened with 16 spaces. It has since expanded to 24 spaces. Individuals or groups are invited to apply each spring for a garden space. Participants donate 10 percent of their produce to Macon County CareNet.
Joe Suminski, was tending his plot Monday morning. Filled with tomatoes, basil, squash, carrots, and much more, it's a good idea that he comes out early to get it all watered and taken care of. He says that he and his family have been using the community garden for about three years now.
“We have a garden at home too, but we just love to use this wonderful resource,” he said. “It helps get you out and involved with the community.”
Even though Suminski has been gardening for a while now, he thinks there are many advantages to the garden and the main one is the helpful hand that Durden and staff are willing to offer.
“A complete novice [gardener] could come up and get a plot and there is no reason that they shouldn't be able to have a successful crop. Mr. Durden and the staff and the Extension office are just so helpful to everyone. They will do everything that they can to make sure that people have good production.”
According to Suminski when an individual or family rents one of the plots, they are not required to do anything with what is produced, but the staff at the extension office does request that you give 10 percent of your yield away, preferably to CareNet.
“If you give it to CareNet, it's going to a good cause, but everything will also be weighed out. It's easier to keep track of the production from the garden that way,” he said.
Sandra Queen, operations director at CareNet says that the donations are especially appreciated this year since there has been an increase in clients being served.
“In the month of July we got about 168 pounds of vegetables. It can be hard to keep track though because not everyone who donates signs their name. We've had about 800 more clients this year than we did last year. We serve anywhere from 60 to 100 people a day so we really do appreciate the fruits and vegetables that come in from the garden,” she said.
By 2014, Nourishing North Carolina is expected to ultimately provide North Carolina communities with 190,000 pounds of produce, which will enhance the nutritional value of nearly 150,000 meals. Just in its first year, the program donated more than two tons of produce to food shelter and rescue organizations across the state. For more information about the Macon County Community Garden, call the Macon County Cooperative Extension Center at 349-2046.
Staff reporter Travis Tallent contributed to this article.