Gardens of Milledgeville are blooming with flowers, service
Community garden plots open for planting for a small charge, and attract staff, students, faculty to enjoy natural produce and flowers
On Sunday, Sept. 23, the Milledgeville Community Garden Association (MCGA) held its first Autumn Potluck from 4 to 7 p.m. at its Southside Garden. Master Gardeners, local farmers, members of the MCGA, students and volunteers came out to plant and prepare the Southside Garden for its autumn growing season and to enjoy garden-fresh meals.
“We had a very productive day,” Debbie Harshbarger, master gardener on the MCGA board, said. “We’re glad to have so many volunteers come out, especially from the college. We are really blessed in Georgia to have a year-long planting season like we do.”
Where one finds the garden is less-than expected. Behind an old elementary school in Southside Milledgeville lies a former playground the MCGA uses as its community garden. Plots of zinnias, marigolds and butterfly bushes are planted around the landscape of rusted swing sets and jungle gyms. There are also vegetable plots vibrant with pumpkins, purple eggplants and red, green and orange peppers. There is an electric fence that surrounds the 1,500-foot perimeter, and handmade wooden signs describe the plants’ locations.
“We have a thriving butterfly garden, as well as a fruit orchard, children’s garden and herb patch,” Tiffany Mathews, Southside Garden manager, said in a press release.
There is also an insect garden, which is planted with garden selections known to attract insects like ladybugs, bees and butterflies for their natural aid in pest control and pollination.
“We’re hoping to plant the whole Southside Garden with wholesome vegetables, with plans of donating most of the produce,” Mathews said.
These donations usually go to Café Central, a soup kitchen that provides free meals weekly.
“The local soup kitchen serves 300 to 400 people a day, and we want to help provide healthy vegetables to all of the people in Milledgeville, in any way possible,” Mathews said.
The remaining harvest is donated to similar charities or sold at the local farmer’s market on Tuesdays.
“There are a lot of people concerned about the source of their food,” Debbie Harshbarger said. “Where is it coming from? What are the ramifications of transporting food across the country? When people get their food from our garden, they know it’s fresh and clean.”
Brett Harshbarger, daughter of Debbie Harshbarger, agreed. “Keeping up the garden requires a lot of work and effort, but it’s worth it.”
Debbie said there are future plans to build a greenhouse around the swing sets.
“We really want to see this place grow,” she said.
But the Harshbargers are not the only ones who want to see the garden grow. The Knight Community Foundation, an international organization that supports a variety of development initiatives, recently awarded a $13,000 grant to the MCGA to begin a new garden at the Collins P. Lee Center in the Harrisburg neighborhood of Milledgeville. Although that project is currently at a standstill, the Southside Garden remains blooming with plenty of room for more plots.
“There are actually about a half dozen paid-for plots which are not being cared for, if someone would like to take them over for free,” Harshbarger said. “And we always have room for more members.”
Becoming a member requires a $20 annual due for a 12-by-12-foot plot. To receive an application for membership, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (478) 227-5322. The MCGA also holds education events for students and local community members on how to plant, grow, and nurture a sustainable vegetable garden. The organization can be found on Facebook and at www.mvillegarden.wordpress.com.