A plot of land on Hughes Street, at first glance, hardly seems like an ideal place to plant a successful garden. The location sits across from a Wal-Mart and only a short distance from the ever-busy Highway 55. It is an unexpected bit of green in the middle of an urban, commercialized environment. What is perhaps even more unexpected than its location is the impact the garden has on the community. The perfect combination of land, volunteers, sponsors, and good intentions is the recipe for success for Simple Gifts Community Garden.
The mission of the Simple Gifts Community garden is to create an organic garden to produce fresh and high quality food while building lasting friendships and cooperation within the community. The garden also aims to spread knowledge of sustainable organic gardening practices and healthy food preparation.
The community garden began in 2009 as a mission of the Apex United Methodist Church. While it is organized through the church, the garden is a place for the entire community regardless of age, faith, address, or gardening ability. The food harvested from the garden is shared between members of the garden and donated to the Western Wake Crisis Ministry, The Point Church Food Pantry, and St. Mary AME Food Pantry.
Simple Gifts operates on a plot of land belonging to Jeanne Hack who has donated her land for the last eight years. When the garden first started, hundreds of volunteers arrived to lay irrigation pipes, erect a deer fence, and build the very first raised planters. According to the garden organizers, in both the inaugural and second year, approximately 500 pounds of organic produce was donated to the pantries and crisis ministry.
In its third year of operation, the community garden grew even bigger. The original deer fence was redone and the size of the garden doubled. With the increased growing area came an even greater donation. The garden is still enjoying success even in its eighth growing season and continues to grow and produce organic food for the community. Last year, Apex United Methodist Church reported that their donation reached 2,075 pounds which was the biggest yet. The garden community also continues to expand through their garden events. This April, the garden hosted a “Plant Swap for Pollinators” event where the community was invited to bring plants to swap and collect a variety of different plants for personal homes and gardens. Events such as this draw people to the garden and continue to promote the garden’s mission of sharing and cooperation.
The church advertises and welcomes all members of the community, regardless of faith or church membership. The only requirement for those who wish to be a member of the Simple Gifts garden is a ten-dollar yearly membership fee and a commitment to work one hour per month during the growing season. The garden also has scholarships available for those who cannot pay the membership fee but still want to be involved. All volunteers receive a portion of the produce harvested during their work and a bucket to bring home and collect compost items. Community members are also invited to drop in and help as a one-time event as long as they sign a safety waiver. Group events, like an office community service project, are also encouraged. Groups of 10 or more adults are asked to contact Anne Harrison to help organize the event. While volunteering for the garden includes planting and harvesting, it also includes mowing, weeding, and picking up compost from surrounding businesses.
All gardening abilities are welcome at the Simple Gift Community Garden. Novice gardeners have the ability to learn as they go and more experienced gardeners can teach and learn from each other. New visitors are given a tour of the garden and introduced to the other garden members. Gardening tips are not the only things passed between volunteers. The garden community promotes their mission of healthy food preparation through sharing of favorite and seasonal recipes between volunteers. The garden’s website maintains a running list of some of these recipe links.
While members and volunteers drive much of the success, the garden also relies on its sponsors to help keep it running. The Garden Supply Company and Daniel Supply Company are some of the local businesses contributing to the garden’s growth. Individuals can also make tax-deductible donations to the garden or donate materials. Monetary donations help the garden replace broken tools, maintain the water system, and pay bills. Gifts can always be given in someone’s name. On the Simple Gifts Community Garden website, members maintain a wish list of items which individuals can sign up to donate. This list includes items such as: pitchforks, twine, and gift cards to home and garden stores.
Currently, the garden is open Saturdays from 8:00 in the morning until noon. Beginning in mid-June through the middle of September, the garden will also be open on Thursday evenings from 5:00pm until 7:00pm. The crops produced in the garden, which are helped by a healthy population of honeybees, depend on the season. The expected summer crops include: potatoes, tomatoes, squash, beans, okra, peppers, cucumbers, melons, eggplant, and lima beans. They also harvest rosemary, mint, basil, thyme, parsley, sage, tarragon, and lemon balm.
For the last eight years, Simple Gifts Community Garden has provided a place for local citizens to come together and share with one another and those in need. It doesn’t matter if you’re young or old, experienced or just a beginning gardener, male or female – all are welcome to lend a hand. The Simple Gifts Community Garden has become a place not only for growth of organic fruits and veggies but it is also a place for the community of Apex to grow.