FORSYTH COUNTY – The Place of Forsyth County opened its marketplace garden for the first time during a ribbon cutting ceremony at the newly planted garden on June 10.
The garden, the result of a collaboration between the nonprofit, University of Georgia Forsyth County Extension and the Master Gardener class of 2016, will stock The Place food pantry with fresh, local produce.
The Place is a nonprofit that provides emergency food and bill assistance and has recently expanded into a workforce development and sustainability program.
“We have scheduled work days, and then if it’s a big group we can work around their schedule to get them in here to learn and to work in the garden,” said Joni Smith, executive director of The Place. “We’re working with an Eagle Scout to make an outdoor classroom so that we can get more kids involved and help that younger generation be able to provide healthy foods.”
The garden has a total of 42 beds prepared according to UGA Extension guidelines, providing not only room for produce for the food pantry, but also a few private family beds, select beds for the culinary arts class, a sandbox and a children’s garden bed.
The initial idea for the garden came about last year, with work actually beginning in the chosen space in February.
The garden area was cleared by The Place volunteers, garden beds were built and donated by Browns Bridge Church volunteers and Master Gardeners organized the planting, bed arrangement and irrigation.
“We had so many volunteers and groups,” Smith said. “It was truly a community effort.”
Patrons of The Place will eventually be trained to be in control of sections of the garden, allowing them to decide what is planted and take more ownership over their food sources. Fresh food is often lacking from food pantry programs, Smith said, making this garden a unique foodbank addition.
“This garden is going to pull the community together. It’s a community garden,” said Louise Estabrook, a local Extension agent. “Community is first, and that’s the most important part. There are a lot of people that have and will join forces with us and this garden.”
The ribbon cutting ceremony was attended by a number of Master Gardeners, The Place volunteers and members of the community and featured speeches by Estabrook, Smith and Alan Grote, a garden irrigation designer.
Boy Scout Will Shulstad, was also introduced at the event. Shulstad is building the outdoor classroom for the garden for his Eagle Scout project.
Refreshments made by a culinary arts class being held at The Place this summer were provided to guests.
“Our goal is fresh, local, nutritional food that we want to make available to all citizens of Forsyth County,” Estabrook said in her speech. “Beyond that, youth education, cultural opportunities, increasing oxygen, decreasing erosion, filtering rainwater, exercise, mental health, horticultural therapy and so many other things are our focus and will benefit us.”
The garden will focus on teaching as well as stocking The Place food pantry. Master Gardeners will teach The Place patrons and community volunteers gardening skills, and the outdoor classroom will be the site of children’s learning opportunities. This inclusion of all ages and backgrounds in the marketplace garden’s operation is perhaps the garden’s most valuable aspect, those involved said.
“The garden will be very helpful for Forsyth County because they want to learn how to plant and enjoy it and it will actually help them to get to know each other,” said Master Gardener Orlando Beltran, who attended the ribbon cutting. “It will become like a big family, just like we are in the Master Gardeners. It will be a wonderful family.”
For more information on the marketplace garden, visit theplaceofforsyth.org.