by Gene Marrano
Roanoke City’s fourth community garden is underway now after a ground-breaking last week. The garden, located next to RAM House ministries
on Campbell Avenue at the edge of downtown, will feature plots that local residents and clients of RAM House, a day shelter for the homeless, can use to grow fruits and vegetable this summer. Other community garden plots have been established in southeast Roanoke and in Hurt Park (Northwest Roanoke).
Small grants from Freedom First Credit Union have helped bankroll the community gardens and the donation of land – loaned to the Roanoke Community Garden Association on a long-term basis by property owners. “The Campbell Avenue Community Garden will long serve residents, offering space for cultivation, education, and social connection,” said Mark Powell, president of the RCGA. “This garden represents our continuing efforts to provide gardening space to people throughout the area.” The second of two gardens in southeast Roanoke, near the Rescue Mission, will also be developed this spring.
Alison Hammond, Public Relations Specialist for Commonwealth Catholic Charities, notes that her organization owns the community garden land, which is part of a complex that houses CCC’s headquarters, RAM House and Refugee & Immigration Services. Some of the clients, many of them immigrants used to growing their own food, will use the new community garden where plots can be applied for on what was once used as a grass volleyball court.
Freedom First Credit Union granted $5000 for the Campbell Avenue Community Garden project, according to Hammond. Roanoke Mayor David Bowers, criticized by May 1 election opponent Mark Lucas for spending too much time at ribbon cuttings and not enough focusing on more important matters, was on hand for the opening ceremony anyway. “We were pleased to see him and glad that he came,” said Hammond.
At least 30 volunteers showed up after the ribbon cutting to construct garden boxes, build a shed and begin to assemble the small plots. “We moved a whole lot of dirt around,” noted Hammond, “but there’s a whole lot more to do.”
A dozen plots have already been spoken for at the Campbell community garden, with about 20 able to fit in the space once it is ready to go. RAM House, a day shelter that also provides meals for the homeless, has been promised three. The fruits and vegetables raised on those plots will be used to help prepare food.
Hammond said RAM House clients and refugees taking classes on the property would be encouraged to help with upkeep of the garden plots. “We’re hoping it will be a therapeutic experience for them,” said Hammond, noting that most of the refugees that Commonwealth Catholic Charities works with come from countries where gardening and farming is “a natural skill set.”
Several community members and employees of Commonwealth Catholic Charities – mostly refugees and immigrants themselves said Hammond – will also work some of the plots. “The melting pot that seems to happen at each one of the community gardens is happening at this one as well.”
The front plot that faces Campbell Avenue is slated to be a flower garden and herb bed, providing some colorful privacy for the rest of the community garden area from the busy road. “It won’t just look like a vegetable garden,” said Hammond.
Shortly after the ground-breaking things were already taking shape. “It looks like a garden out there. It was certainly a successful [first] day,” said Hammond.