Organizers of the community garden next to First United Methodist Church on Edgewood Drive in Maumelle are looking for more gardeners this spring and offering them a discounted rental rate as an enticement.
Christy Anderson, who organized the garden said between now and August the plots will only cost half price at $10 and $15. Normally the plots rent from $20 to $30 from August to August.
Anderson said a couple years back a friend was telling her about a group called the Central Arkansas New Agrarian Society, a group of people who help start community and neighborhood gardens.
"It got me to thinking about Maumelle and how it was silly for Maumelle to not have a community garden. I started looking around Maumelle for likely gardening sites, feeling the mayor out as to the city’s role in it… and then I had a light bulb moment," Anderson said. "Duh! The church has this empty lot right next to it, and it’s perfectly flat. During this same time, I was at the grocery store filling up grocery sacks to give to Hope Alliance (the food pantry in Morgan that the church helps to support). I thought it was a shame that 100 percent of the food given to the pantry was canned and boxed. Yuck!"
"So, I brought the idea to Beth McElroy (church administrative assistant), and Pastor Luke Conway and they were behind it 100 percent. Beth, myself, Janet Toland, and Shannon Hyslip started in organizing. Beth’s husband, Ron was brought on board to assist with grant applications and writing."
Anderson said the group’s mission is "to provide an educational community garden for the purpose of improving the health and wellness of Maumelle, building community and educating residents about nutrition and providing food to those in need."
She said the name "First Fruits" comes from scripture in Deuteronomy 26: 10-12, King James Version:
"And now, behold, I have brought the firstfruits of the land, which thou, O LORD, hast given me. And thou shalt set it before the LORD thy God, and worship before the LORD thy God:
And thou shalt rejoice in every good thing which the LORD thy God hath given unto thee, and unto thine house, thou, and the Levite, and the stranger that is among you.
When thou hast made an end of tithing all the tithes of thine increase the third year, which is the year of tithing, and hast given it unto the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, that they may eat within thy gates, and be filled"
"The basic tenet of the garden is this: Plant and grow anything you want, as long as it’s legal but you must give a portion (any amount you want) of what you grow, away," she said. "It can be [to] your neighbor, a food pantry, or a stranger in a random act of kindness."
Plans were to build the garden in four phases but only the first two were done last year. Those first two were completed with help in the form of donations from:
• ArCop- $1,668 — reimbursement grant
• Wal-Mart - $500
• Scott’s Miracle Grow - $500
• Vacation Bible School fundraiser — $1,123.88.
• Donations — Mayor Mike Watson and other private donors.
The remainder of the plots will be constructed on Sat. March 15 at 9 a.m.
The garden is open to all Maumelle residents, Anderson said. You do not have to be a member of the church. All are welcome. All one has to do is fill out an application, agree to the garden guidelines, and pay the rental fee. Garden packets can be picked up at the First United Methodist Church located at 1201 Edgewood Drive.
The garden plots rent for $20-$30 yearly. However, this is first year fees will be half price for the spring planting. The fees cover water usage and maintenance of the beds and area.
Plans call for surrounding the garden with a fence to protect the beds from the roving herds of deer. Estimates for the fence range from $3,900 to $5,200, she said.
A garden shed to house tools and other gardening supplies is also in the works as is hosting a garden party, holding cooking and gardening classes this spring.
First Fruits Community Garden will hold its third workshop at 6:30 p.m. today in the sanctuary of First United Methodist Church at 1201 Edgewood Drive. Beth Phelps from the Pulaski County University of Arkansas’ Cooperative Extension Office will speak about the Spring and Summer Garden and preparing now for upcoming planting. Everyone is invited to attend.
First workday is planned for 9 a.m. on Saturday, March 15. An additional 18 beds and clean up existing beds to add to the 14 beds available right now to rent for the Spring season. If interested in a garden plot, call 851-2377.
More information is available on Facebook – First Fruits Community Garden of Maumelle or by contacting Beth McElroy at 851-2377 or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.