The Newtown neighborhood found a way to bring back a sense of community and fight the image of oppression by nearby industries. They’re building a garden.
Through a $20,000 donation from Cargill, the community is holding a groundbreaking Friday to set up raised beds for community members to plant fresh fruits and vegetables. The area, named after first Newtown Florist Club president Ruby Wilkins, will also be an area for community activities and events.
“Everybody used to have a garden back in the ’50s and ’70s, but then people began to learn more about the environment and found out the ground was contaminated,” said Faye Bush, executive director of the Newtown Florist Club. “People had beautiful gardens but cut them down. My mother had a garden in the back yard, but every time she worked in it, she would break out with a rash and we told her to stop.”
The new space, 50 feet by 100 feet, will feature organic produce planted in barrels. Even though tests have shown the soil to not be contaminated anymore, residents are “still being careful.”
“I don’t quite trust it,” Bush said. “I guess just the history and things we’ve been through for years, also with the junkyard being close, runoff might get in the soil. We just want to be safe.”
Bush is also excited to involve students in the project. When she introduced the idea at the annual Newtown Florist Club leadership camp, the girls were excited.
“I want them to see what it’s like to have fresh vegetables and not go way out to buy them,” she said. “I can see them getting involved, too, rather than sitting in the house. It’ll help get them back doing things.”
On Friday, Bonny Putney, headwaters outreach coordinator for Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, will be on-hand to donate two rain barrels she’s painted to help water the garden and raise awareness for water conservation.
Putney regularly teaches rain barrel workshops with Gainesville’s Public Utilities Department and the University of Georgia’s extension office in which participants pay $30 and go home with their very own rain barrel.
Those who attend the groundbreaking will have a chance to sign up for a future class. Students from the University of Georgia will also be on hand to help residents start building the raised-bed garden barrels.
Bush said the Newtown Florist Club also plans to create handouts about the basics of growing.
The club formed in 1950 with an initial purpose to raise money for funeral flowers. But as residents were surrounded by industry, group members became community watchdogs. In 1978, the florist club petitioned the state Environmental Protection Division to force companies to clean up odors and dust.
The community has also complained about Cargill, which was fined by the EPD in 2003 for failing to keep records of emissions from one of its eight baghouses that filter dust from gases before they are released into the air.
However, the new partnership is like a breath of fresh air.
“Down through the years, we’ve had so much disagreement,” Bush said. “It seems like they’re trying to help more and be a community-drive place. They’ve been really supportive the past few years, and I think if other businesses see, they might be more friendly and do something to keep from polluting the area.”
The garden is the first effort in a beautification project the club launched to help the community.
“We’re going to clean up and paint houses, and the garden is going to be a big part of that,” Bush said. “With the communication we have with Cargill, we’re closing that gap we had, and it is well overdue. It means a lot to the community.”