FORSYTH COUNTY — The Place of Forsyth County opened its marketplace garden for the first time during a ribbon-cutting ceremony June 10 in Cumming.
The newly planted garden is a collaboration among the nonprofit, University of Georgia Forsyth County Extension and the Master Gardener class of 2016. Its end result will be fresh local produce stocking the shelves of The Place food pantry.
The Place is a nonprofit that provides emergency food and bill assistance. And it has recently expanded into a workforce development and sustainability program.
“We have scheduled work days. And then if it’s a big group, we can work around their schedule to get them in here to learn and to work in the garden,” The Place Executive Director Joni Smith said. “We’re working with an Eagle Scout to make an outdoor classroom so that we can get more kids involved and help that younger generation be able to provide healthy foods.”
The garden has a total of 42 beds prepared, according to UGA Extension guidelines. It will provide not only room for produce for the food pantry, but a few private family beds, select beds for a culinary arts class, a sandbox and a children’s garden bed.
The garden will focus on teaching as well as stocking The Place food pantry. Master Gardeners will teach The Place patrons and community volunteers gardening skills, and the outdoor classroom will be the site of children’s learning opportunities. This inclusion of all ages and backgrounds in the marketplace garden’s operation is perhaps the garden’s most valuable aspect, those involved said.
“The garden will be very helpful for Forsyth County because they want to learn how to plant and enjoy it and it will actually help them to get to know each other,” said Master Gardener Orlando Beltran, who attended the ribbon cutting. “It will become like a big family, just like we are in the Master Gardeners. It will be a wonderful family.”
The initial idea for the garden came about last year, with work actually beginning in February.
The Place volunteers cleared the area for the garden beds, which were built and donated by Browns Bridge Church volunteers. The Master Gardeners organized the planting, bed arrangement and irrigation.
“We had so many volunteers and groups,” Smith said. “It was truly a community effort.”
Patrons of The Place eventually will be trained to control the garden sections, allowing them to decide what is planted and take ownership over their food sources.
Fresh food is often lacking from food pantry programs, Smith said, making this garden a unique food bank addition.
“This garden is going to pull the community together. It’s a community garden,” said Louise Estabrook, a local Extension agent. “Community is first, and that’s the most important part. There are a lot of people (who) have and will join forces with us and this garden.”
The ribbon-cutting ceremony was attended by many Master Gardeners, The Place volunteers and community members. The event featured speeches by Estabrook, Smith and Alan Grote, a garden irrigation designer.
Boy Scout Will Shulstad was also recognized. He is building the outdoor classroom for his Eagle Scout project.
A culinary arts class being held at The Place this summer provided refreshments to the guests.
“Our goal is fresh, local, nutritional food that we want to make available to all citizens of Forsyth County,” Estabrook said in her speech. “Beyond that, youth education, cultural opportunities, increasing oxygen, decreasing erosion, filtering rainwater, exercise, mental health, horticultural therapy and so many other things are our focus and will benefit us.”
For more information on the marketplace garden, visit theplaceofforsyth.org.