Taking root: Community Gardens grow across the city

Taking root: Community Gardens grow across the city
May 07
00:00 2015
(Above: Photo by Erin Mizelle for The Chronicle.- Garden boxes, some already with healthy cabbage heads showing, are filled with other seeds at Cook Elementary School in April.)

Potential green thumbs and the need to harvest groceries have grown over the years, resulting in community and urban gardens across the nation.

Winston-Salem is no different.

Community gardens can include gardens that are at schools, churches, in a neighborhood or in urban areas like an alley or rooftop, according to Alison Duncan, community gardening coordinator for Forsyth County’s Cooperative Extension.

“It’s a garden where people are coming together to grow vegetables and flowers, along with working collaboratively,” she said. “We have seen a huge increase in community gardens in the county.”

And more are expected in the city after the City Council passed the Urban Agriculture ordinance Monday night, May 4.

“That’s going to be a real boom for community gardens. It’s going to be a great thing because that will allow community gardener’s to grow food on, what is technically illegal for them to grow on, vacant lots that are not accessory to other buildings,” Duncan said. “This will remove that requirement. That’s going to be a real positive thing.”

As of Friday, May 1, the city now has 134 gardens, up from 43 in 2010, and another 20 to 30 gardens in the organizational stage, which Duncan said she is proud of.

“It’s awesome.”

She said that they can be attributed to the faith community addressing food insecurities.

“Community gardens are a way to make a grassroots effort and impact to feed others,” she said. “All I do is help them organize themselves, find the horticultural information they need in planting and give them advice. It’s about them doing for themselves, and when people do that, they own it more.”

Duncan said that she’s also seen an increase in school gardens.

“The [Winston-Salem/Forsyth County] school system has said that there are very low, if any barriers, to a school putting a garden in place,” Duncan said. “[School board member] Elizabeth Motsinger helped to make that happen a few years ago, and that has been a big help as well.”

The Extension Service is getting ready for its Growing School Gardens program. The program is geared toward educators, administrators, staff and parents in the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County school system so that they can help schools incorporate gardens in their learning environments.

At Cook Elementary School, parents and students take extra care in the garden that they have. Fifth-Grade Teacher Veleria Singletary said that it has made all of the difference for her students and their parents.

Students first began planting in the classroom before ending up outside in spring 2014 after mentioning the ideas to its community partner, First Presbyterian Church. The church then came out to set up the garden plots, put fencing around them and got everything the students would need.

Singletary uses it as a lesson on the Ecosystem for Science and writing prompts.

“Children have a love for gardening. They love watching things grow,” she said. “We go out every day, even if it’s just to walk though and see what has popped up in the garden. Everyone has something out there with their names on it.”

The garden is open to everyone in the community. When it’s time to harvest, Singletary said that the school has no problem with their families coming to get food.

“The families will come in to get the garden ready and a neighbor comes to water in the summer time. The parents even put a shed up this year. The parents and the community are very involved,” she said.

So how can you start up your own garden? Duncan said think first and take an assessment of what you have on hand, especially space. She said you should also think about the schedule of the plant you are planting and when it will need to be harvested.

“From a horticulture standpoint, you should worry about adequate sunlight, at least seven hours a day, access to water, space and soil, whether it’s testing it or buying it,” she said. “When picking seeds, you want to think about space and where the food is going. Depending on who is going to be eating the food should determine what you will be planting.”

All of those looking to plant in the city should adhere to any laws and seek out the proper permits.

For more information, visit You can also call Alison Duncan at 336-703-2859 or email her at

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Chanel Davis

Chanel Davis

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