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July 18, 2018

7/10/2018 4:02:00 PM
Suffolk Gardening Collaborative Hopes To Grow Its Participants

SUFFOLK — A community gardening collaborative is hoping to increase the amount of people involved in efforts to grow fresh food for city residents.

Healthy Suffolk Digs assists with dozens of school and community gardens but is hoping to widen the network.

“My vision is to connect school gardens, community gardens, master gardeners, government groups and private organizations,” shared Shelley Butler Barlow, HSD garden coordinator. “I’m trying to make a big gardening network and would love to tie it in with farms.”

Healthy Suffolk, a non-profit organization created to promote health and wellness amongst city residents, was originally called The Suffolk Partnership for a Healthy Community. It received a grant in 2009 to start a garden program. Barlow, whose family operates Cotton Plains Farm and previously provided fresh vegetables to subscribers of its community supported agriculture program, was hired in 2016.

Barlow encouraged HSD to rename the garden component Healthy Suffolk Digs. With the new name and a new Facebook page, she is working to encourage networking amongst urban gardens and the organizations cultivating them.

Recently, the group created a community garden at the downtown Hilton hotel on the riverfront. It’s a collaboration with HSD, the Nansemond River Preservation Alliance, the hotel and ForKids, which provides housing programs and extended services for homeless families. Barlow said much of the produce grown in the garden will benefit ForKids clientele.

She added that a local councilman sponsored one of the garden beds and local businesses donated compost and plants. Members of a local women’s group provided the labor to construct the raised beds for the garden.

“This is how it should work,” Barlow said. “It’s a nice collaboration of community groups working together to grow food and feed people.”

Another new garden project involving several community groups was planted at the city’s East Suffolk Recreation Center. HSD maintains two garden plots there and several other community groups are working in the gardens.

The on-site kitchen will utilize some of the produce grown there and any extra will be left in a basket for recreation center users to pick up for free.

“There’s such a need for this type of thing,” Barlow said.

Barlow is willing to help anyone who wants to start an urban garden and get involved in collaborative efforts. She also “would love” to find sponsors who could provide funding to support existing gardens and help pay for new gardens.

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