In February of 2013, shortly after the Positively Place BOOST event with Jim Walker, three local women, Bethany Norwalt, Jessica Clark, and Susan Isaacs, with similar visions centered around community sustainability efforts, particularly community gardening, collaborated to form the Sprout of Control – Community Garden Project. Pulling resources and operating under one umbrella allowed SOC to make a larger impact at a faster rate than any of the co-creators imagined. Three main community gardens (Townsend Center, Sylvan Nook, and Depot District) and a handful of affiliate gardens, including the Noah’s Ark Daycare and RiverRats locations, “sprouted” up during that year with the help of enthusiastic volunteers and participants. Although some of the gardens were revitalizations, some continuations, and some brand new creations, at their heart they were all community collaborations–each the direct result of community members working together and supporting one another!
In spring of 2014 SOC formed a seven member board of directors and filed for (and has since received!) 501(c)(3) status.With the resources and the connections of the newly formed board, SOC grew its satellite garden locations to triple the previous year’s numbers, including affiliate gardens in Hagerstown and Centerville, our first garden partnerships outside of Richmond! We currently boast three main garden locations and eleven affiliate gardens. Furthermore, SOC’s gaining momentum has opened us up to new, exciting partnerships with other organizations trying to revitalize our community. For example, SOC expects to add two main garden sites in the next few years through a collaboration with the City of Richmond to reclaim and restore blighted properties. We are proud to be part of partnerships like these because they demonstrate SOC’s ability to fill a much needed and unique niche in Wayne County.
More recently, 2015 marked a milestone for the Depot Garden in particular, for they have entered into a partnership with Meridian Health Services. Meridian had participated in several of the gardens over the past few seasons, but this year the two organizations came to an agreement to where Meridian is guaranteed space at the Depot Garden, indefinitely. Meridian in return will cover any costs associated the garden. The ultimate outcome – a garden able to be sustained for future years to come.
“We (Meridian) are very excited for the partnership at the Depot Garden, considering that we had not been able to plant perennials in our gardens before, because we were unsure about the possibility of securing space for our clients in future years.” Said Shelia Jones, Case manager with Meridian, and co-coordinator at the Depot District Garden. “The plots were given on a first come, first serve basis, so if our clients delayed signing up, there was a real possibility that they may not get one.”
Now, with the partnership in full effect, the West half of the garden is reserved for Meridian clients and staff, and the East side is open to the public. There are also “community beds”, of which consist of corn, green beans, squash, watermelon, and cantaloupe. There are also pear trees and blueberry bushes that are open for anyone who is a current gardener to reap produce from.
“Collaboration is key. Partnerships are what make grass-root organizations like this work in a community. We are very glad that we have been able to make these types of partnerships in order to benefit the community, teach residents neighborhood pride, as well as how to be more self-sufficient.” Says Jessica Clark, Co-Founder and Co-coordinator of Depot District Garden, as well as an employee of Porter Advertising.
All of the gardeners take responsibility for their own plots, as well as have the understanding that the community beds must also be maintained, and will handle those on a need basis. From seeding, to weeding, watering, and ultimately harvesting, the gardeners are receiving hands on training on how to grow their own garden.
“Ultimately, we hope that the gardeners will be able to start and maintain their own garden at home. Understandably, not everyone has space at their homes, so if need be they are more than welcome to continue in their plots at the garden. Otherwise, we hope that they will spread their knowledge with others, and encourage them to also pursue the benefits of gardening.” Said Clark.
A research study by Van Den Berg, and Custers (2011) found that gardening greatly reduces acute stress in individuals. “The clients that were involved with the community garden really had a sense of pride due to planting, weeding, and picking the garden,” case manager Lois Howell was quoted saying in the May/June 2014 edition of Maximum Living.
“At Meridian Health Services, we believe in whole person health. Participating in the community garden not only aided our consumers in decreasing their mental health symptoms, but also improved their social and physical health. Our consumers came away from the project with increases self-esteem, pride, and understanding of food and healthy eating,” Regional Manager LCSW, Sayward Salazar, was quoted in the same article.
In 2018 Sprout of Control was allotted a property of their own through the City of Richmond’s Blight Elimination Program. The property is located at 124 North 17th and is going to be available Spring of 2018.
Sprout has launched it’s innovative “Seed to Pantry” program in conjunction with the opening of the new property. This program takes 30 families through the entire process from the seed to the harvest of nutritious foods. They also offer cooking, preservation, and other educational sessions.
2019 will focus on a garden on the South side of Richmond, an area that has been identified as a high risk, food desert. Most do not have transportation, and must travel more than 2 miles to access fresh nutritious foods.