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Community garden takes root in West Lincoln

Scout Barkley samples a pea during harvesting at the Deeper Down Community Garden in Vale.

Staff Writer

Gardens come in all shapes and sizes. Some are grown by full-time farmers, of course, some in back yards by individuals or families. Some are grown by a group of people on privately owned land donated for the purpose of having a garden. The Deeper Down Community Garden, located at 149 Howards Creek Mill Road in Lincolnton, is in its fourth year of growing. It is managed by a group of people from the West Lincoln area and those who attend Messiah United Methodist Church.

Kevin and Katie Miller came to Lincolnton from Concord when Kevin Miller became the pastor of Messiah United Methodist Church. While they were living in Concord, the Millers belonged to a community garden and missed it when they moved to Lincolnton. They met Lisa Barkley, who has a garden on Cat Square Road, and enlisted her help in getting a community garden started on land behind the church.

They started small and the garden has grown progressively over the years. For the first year they broke ground and started late summer and fall crops in August.

“We got a great harvest,” Barkley said. “The next year we started early in the spring. Each year, more people have come and we have a nice, sustained group that comes every week no matter what. We also have people that drop in every other week or once a month and some who start to come in the summer once school is out.”

The arrangement is that everyone that comes to work and harvest vegetables on the designated evening, which is usually a Tuesday, can take a share of produce home with them. Whatever is left is donated to Christian Ministry or others in need.

“If we grow flowers we often bring them to the elderly folks in the congregation,” Barkley said.

The garden was very much an experiment for the new pastor and his family.

“We really didn’t know what to expect so we came into it with open minds,” Miller said. “It’s been wonderful meeting here every week with our friends and community members and learning how to grow things.”

Unless there’s a lot of work to be accomplished in an evening, the children are allowed to play but once the adults start working in the garden, they often gravitate toward what the adults are doing and start helping out in any way they can.

“Sometimes they’re all into it and helping us out the whole time,” Barkley said. “Other times they’re playing the whole evening. They love to come here and have the fellowship of just being together. I think too just seeing us out here working is a good example. We try not to push the work part too much. We offer it and get them to do little tasks but we want them to enjoy it.”

In today’s industrial age, when most of the food that people consume comes from a grocery store or is consumed in a restaurant, there is a great disconnect from where food actually comes from. Lincoln County has deep agricultural roots and there are still a lot of farms in the county but growing a garden is a lot of work and perhaps more commitment than some people are willing to take on.

That’s the benefit of a community garden. Unless it’s peak growing season, the participants meet once a week to do gardening chores and harvesting. There is a lot less commitment, coupled with the benefit of access to fresh vegetables. They are also getting access to vegetables that they may not normally try either due to its unfamiliarity or unavailability at grocery stores.

“We’ve heard a lot of the kids and even some of the adults say ‘I didn’t even like green beans until I had them this way,’” Barkley said.

Some of the community members are bringing in their own talents. For example, a garden member, Beth Sain, is a beekeeper and she installed several hives of bees near the garden. When it is harvested, the honey will be shared. Sain also sometimes comes on garden nights and gives tips on raising bees.

“We’re hoping that more people will take on projects like that,” Barkley said. “Perhaps a medicinal or pollinator garden. We’ve had lots of ideas over the years but we’re trying to keep it at what we can manage coming once a week and popping in to harvest here and there.”

Agriculture students from West Lincoln High School grow some of the starts that are used at Deeper Down and they’ve made field trips out to the garden to learn about organic gardening, raised beds and beekeeping.

Messiah United Methodist Church has received some grant money from the Duke Endowment program for rural churches. With that money the church members built a picnic/meeting area, extended a walking path and had frost-free water hydrants installed closer to the garden.

The members meet over the winter to plan what they want to grow and where they want to plant it. One member, Laura Clark, came up with the idea of “adopt a crop” to help with some of the higher maintenance vegetables, like tomatoes. The person who adopts that crop would be responsible for coming to the garden on a more frequent basis to manage it. Clark made up a binder with information on each plant, what care it entails, the common pests and what to potential disease symptoms to look for.

Attending Messiah United Methodist Church is not a requirement to join the community garden. Anyone is welcome to join in. For more information, visit the Deeper Down Community Garden on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/DeeperDownGarden/ or telephone Pastor Kevin Miller at (704) 276-2423.


Image courtesy of Michelle T. Bernard

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