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Cornelia residents create community garden
Cost to rent a plot is $15 for one year
Mona Painter explains how the Cornelia Home Grown Harvest Garden is divided. - photo by Tom Reed

If you travel down Level Grove Road in Habersham County, it's hard to miss the Cornelia Home Grown Harvest community garden.

If the 3-D sign didn't catch your eye, then surely the towering rows of yellow and orange sunflowers would get your attention.

"We don't have any rules of about what people can grow," said Mona Painter, special projects manager for the City of Cornelia.

"We just ask them to keep their plots clean."

The contents of the 17 occupied plots are as varied as the gardening techniques used to grow them.

There are carefully tended plots filled with corn and other summer crops, and more live-and-let-live plots that contain a few remnants of a mostly harvested cabbage crop.

"There's one woman who only wants to grow sweet potatoes, so she doesn't plan on doing anything to her plot until it's time to plant those," Painter said.

The idea for the garden came from the city commission, Painter said. It became a reality last summer with a lot of help.

"It was a group effort of a very wide variety," Painter said.

Since the garden is located partially on property owned by Fieldale Farms and the Cornelia Housing Authority, permission had to be granted from both parties to begin on the garden.

Cornelia Commissioner Don Bagwell designed the signage, and the Cornelia Garden Club applied for a grant that helped get tools for the gardeners to use. The Cornelia Public Utilities Department helped by providing most of the manual labor involved in setting up the garden.

Since the property was previously just a 50-foot by 105-foot stretch of grass along a main road, a lot of work went into getting it garden-ready. Among other things, the hardened ground had to be plowed five times, a fence had to be installed and water hookups had to be set up.

To rent one of the 20 plots, it costs $15 per year, or $10 per year for public housing residents. The rental fees help to pay for upkeep of the overall garden, including water usage.

In addition to keys to the gate and tool shed, the community gardeners also received a coupon for a discount at a local home and garden store.

Although a lot of time and considerable resources went into making the community garden a reality, the goal of the project wasn't to be a big money-maker for the city.

Ultimately, Cornelia officials wanted to help residents be able to have easy access to fresh produce.

"When you can get people to eat fresh, eat local and to support local businesses, that's a good thing," Painter said.

"When you garden, you get exercise and you can grow better food for your family," Painter said.

"It may not change your life, but it will certainly improve it."