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With community garden, Newtown leaders hope to encourage healthier living
Newtown resident Linda Montgomery, left, and Newtown Florist Club executive director Faye Bush share a laugh at a dedication ceremony Friday for the Ruby Wilkins Community Garden on Desota Street. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

With some shoveled soil and a big vision for the future, the seeds have been planted for growth, health and life in Gainesville’s Newtown neighborhood.

The new Ruby Wilkins Community Garden will provide a place for residents to grow their own produce.

“All the people in the community can get involved and come in and plant different vegetables,” said Faye Bush, executive director of the Newtown Florist Club. “They can come in and gather them and use them because we’re a good distance from the store.”

The florist club has been around for 60 years, and the garden is named for its first president. Some of her children attended a dedication event for the garden.

“It means more than words can express,” said Bettye Wilkins Wheeler, Ruby Wilkins’ daughter. “It’s a joyous occasion, and it’s an honor for something to be named for and dedicated to our mom, something that will benefit so many people.”

Bush said people in the neighborhood, which is surrounded by industry, used to enjoy keeping gardens, but they stopped gardening when they learned the soil in the area was contaminated.

Now, the community garden is protected from possible contamination. The flowers and vegetables will grow in raised beds, and Bush said seeds will be planted mid-August.

Nik Heynen of the University of Georgia’s geography department helped with strategic planning for the garden. He will teach a service-learning class at UGA in the fall that will work directly with the new community effort.

“For thousands and thousands of years, people have been coming together to grow food and to share food together, and part of the tragedy of this community is the burden of environmental injustice that they’ve had to deal with,” Heynen said. “At some point, they didn’t feel safe growing food in their community.”

He said the garden is a symbol of the neighborhood’s strides toward progress.

Alaina Holeman, 12, who participated in the florist club’s leadership camp this summer, said the garden is exciting.

“That’s better than going to the grocery store because it’s fresh food,” she said. “It’s not been on trucks. It’s right out of your community.”

Her mother, Joy Holeman, agreed.

“It’s good to see that happen over here,” she said. “This is one way to give back to the community by providing them with food and making it accessible to them.”

Others involved in the project include the Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, which provided two rain barrels, and Cargill, which donated $20,000.

Cargill’s Matt Pearson said the project fits in with the company’s efforts to promote nutrition and health in the area.

“What we’ve really done is a lot of education, getting to know (the community) and their needs and also for them to understand what we do,” Pearson said. “Once everybody understands where everybody else is, you really get to see what the needs and wants of everybody are, and people can work together and pull together. That’s really what it’s all about.”

For city councilwoman Myrtle Figueras, it’s all about growth.

“All growth of any kind begins with a seed,” she said. “And if we begin now with the seeds, we’ll see something beautiful come out of it.”