Written by Elaine Shields
The First Presbyterian Church in Greensboro, NC had an unused 60’ x 185’ residential lot on the corner of N. Fisher Avenue and Greene Street in downtown Greensboro. Their wish was to use this space to grow food for their community outreach program ‘Hot Dish and Hope’ kitchen that served community members in-need, two nights a week. In addition, they would donate excess fresh produce to other Greensboro programs such as Second Harvest Food Bank and the International Resource Center (IRC) kitchen. Jane Trevey, FPC’s 2014 Women’s Outreach Chair, initiated the garden.
The original garden design was based on an existing community garden at a fellow Presbyterian Church. It consisted of a circular garden of raised beds, mimicking the design of a prominent rosette stained glass window, and a few long raised beds. Volunteers were at the ready, and the Fisher Park Historical Association & Building Commission was on board with the design. In addition, the knowledge that the garden could be short lived (because of the church’s need for the land) no permanent structures, retaining walls or fencing could be added.
Although the initial design was appealing (and approved by the Historical Association), after being asked by FPC to apply Permaculture principles to the garden, the design evolved into a simpler, yet more productive use of the space. Permaculture principles of building-up, rather than tilling or digging-in, were applied by simplifying the circular bed design. Although the use of donated lumber was necessary, the simplification of the design allowed for less wood on the circular bed, and more mounding of lovely soil. This created ‘keyhole beds’ in a circular pattern for maximum food production. This soil was laid over sheet-mulching, again eliminating the need for digging up sod, or spraying with chemicals. A central herb spiral was added to the circular bed design. The left over lumber was used on the fronts of additional bed rows, which were designed on the contour of the land for water catchment. By creating these rows on contour, more rows could be created and water was kept on the land rather than running off as it had previously.
In addition to annual bed creation, the Permaculture method of diverse plantings was used. These included dwarf fruiting trees, shrubs and berries. Insectary and herbaceous perennials surround the garden to capitalize on the edges, and to surround it with plants that invite beneficial birds and insects inside. The central herb spiral, housing both annual and perennial herbs, also invites beneficial insects. These perennials also aerate the soil with their continuous root growth creating healthier soil. White clover was used as the ground cover on the transitional slope from the circular garden to the bed rows. FPC installed a water pump which volunteers use to hand water the gardens.
There are currently over 25 beds that either parishioners or volunteer groups have taken ownership for. Although the funding for the ‘Hot Dish and Hope’ program diminished, the garden flourished and provided fresh produce for the Greensboro community at Share the Harvest and the IRC.
“We have not been measuring precisely the amount of food we have contributed thus far. I would estimate over 150 lbs of squash, cabbage, broccoli, beans, eggplant and cucumbers have made it into the hands of those who would not otherwise be able to afford fresh summer vegetables,” shared Jane Trevey only four months after the garden had been created.
“The ‘team tending’ of the plots has been working out great. Many hands make light work! The tomatoes will be the next big challenge this month as they are growing wild, heavy and fast. Our hope is to get dozens of them to Share the Harvest as well as share some with our congregation in a few weeks.”
No doubt, First Presbyterian Church has turned an unused urban lot into a flourishing garden helping to provide fresh produce to their community members. And, by using Permaculture principles, water no longer runs off the property, no chemicals or destructive digging were used and produce is abundant in a small space!
Elaine Shields, designer
Charlie Headington, consultant