GREENVILLE — It’s rare to find vacant land in the inner city, but even more unusual when that tract is turned into a vegetable garden.
But, that is what’s rising out of some rich soil trucked onto a small plot of land on a city street corner far in the shadow of Bon Secours St. Francis Health System in Greenville.
“We have herbs, tomatoes, squash, cucumber, lettuce, beans — you name it,” said Natalie Dougherty, health outreach coordinator for Bon Secours St. Francis.
The land, donated by the hospital, has been subdivided into 16 plots, each measuring 4 feet by 12 feet. The sections sit in a fenced-in site just off a busy intersection off U.S. 123. It is a joint effort of Bon Secours and Leadership Greenville, a leadership training program of the Greater Greenville Chamber of Commerce.
Dougherty said the notion of a garden sprouted about two years ago through a hospital volunteer organization called Super Saints.
“We were looking for ideas that would get employees involved in community outreach,” she said.
The concept for the community garden came from Project Host, a Greenville relief agency that grows vegetables for a local soup kitchen.
“That’s where the inspiration came from,” Dougherty said.
In addition to the vegetable garden plots, the site includes worktables, compost bins, a tool shed, a worm bed, and an herb and flower garden that surround the vegetable garden.
Two of the 16 plots are raised to allow for handicapped gardeners.
A grand-opening celebration was held in February and all 16 plots were taken shortly thereafter, Dougherty said.
“We have a small waiting list for next year,” she said.
The workers can use their plot for a year, she said. Most of them live in the Judson and Sterling communities of Greenville’s Westside, an area served by St. Anthony of Padua Church, which also has a plot in the garden.
Growers are from local churches and a recreation center, plus come in small groups and as individuals.
Dorothy Russell, who shares her plot with a cousin, said she has planted turnip greens, okra, peppers, green beans and some herbs.
“I grew up around a garden that my father tended,” Russell said.
She said she enjoys the work days held at the site every other Saturday, when the plot owners get together to tend their gardens and talk.
“We get an opportunity to meet people from different places who bring different ideas, and meet neighbors who maybe live a street or two from you but you never got the chance to meet,” Russell said.
“It’s becoming a gathering place, a social networking place for the community,” Dougherty said.
She said future plans include a farmer’s market and classes on nutrition and environmental sustainability.
Russell, however, believes the project’s potential reaches much further for a neighborhood in need of positive change.
“I can’t say exactly what’s to come, but I believe this is going to grow into something much larger than it is now,” she said.
To learn more visit www.stfrancishealth.org/community_ministries.php and click “The Community Garden Project Blog.”