It's November, and the growing season is over for most vegetables. But even with the frosts and the shorter days, not everyone has retreated indoors. 17-year-old Connor Haynes is spending two months worth of Saturdays building a shed and rain barrels in a community garden in Charleston. Connor is working on his Eagle Scout badge, and he's also using the project to honor his friend.
This community garden is located along Washington Street East next to Dollar General- the only store in the East End neighborhood where people can buy groceries, although there isn't really very much food available there.
Connor Haynes and his family live outside of town, but he wanted to volunteer in this garden because there are so many people hoping to see it grow.
“It's important to have locally grown food around. It's a nice place. It's a good location. There's a bunch of gardens that people rent out. And can plant whatever they want and can grow vegetable gardens.”
The East End Community garden has about 20 garden plots that it rents for $30 a year. They have a scholarship fund to help those in need use a garden plot for free. There is also a shared community plot, where anyone can take fruits and vegetables. This garden is located along a busy arterial street, in what had previously been a vacant lot.
Connor has been weeding some of the garden plots and building a tool shed. He's also putting four rail barrels for people to use to water their plants.
To help him, Connor recruited a few boys from his scout troop, as well as friends from school. Their work began in October and will continue until the end of November.
In the past two years, many hands have worked to develop this space into a well used garden. Not only does it provide fresh food for people, one of the plot owners Mark Wolfe says this space also provides a visual reminder that food can grow right in your own backyard.
“So many people are shocked to find that people are planting and growing right in the middle of a city. And you get so many people that are neighbors coming over and saying they remember growing tomatoes with their grandmother.”
The East End Community Garden Project is a collaboration between neighborhood volunteers and the city of Charleston. Scott McMillian is one of the many community gardeners who have grown here for for two years.
“We put teams together and in an afternoon we turned an eyesore into something special.”
And though the volunteers have put all this labor into the garden, this lot is technically owned by the Charleston Urban Renewal Authority, or CURA. Jim Edwards, with CURA, says his group purchased this lot when they were developing a new streetscape along Washington St. They needed a place to put a power generator for the new lights, but the rest of the lot was not being used.
“It's a good interim use of the property, and it's certainly better that an empty lot that has to be mowed,” said Jim Edwards.
He adds that a new commercial development could eventually be built here in place of this garden.
“Well I say interim because any time you have vacant property on almost an arterial road like Washington St., you want to ultimately see it developed to a more, I guess productive is the right word, use. But this is a good use until something else comes along.”
The future of the garden might be uncertain, but it has never been more popular. Mark Wolfe rents one of the plots and has been one of the main volunteers here since the beginning. “I'm always being asked 'how do I get a plot?'"
Part of the work that Connor Haynes is doing will help Mark and the other volunteers have more access to water next year. He's also building a covered benches and tables to give people a place to enjoy the garden or get out of the weather.
This fall, about the same time that Connor was beginning to plan this community service project, he learned that his friend and mentor Andrew O' Neil, a fellow Boy Scout, had passed away. The death was an accident, and quite a shock to many within the Boy Scout community in West Virginia. Andrew and Connor had worked worked together at the Buckskin Boy Scout Reservation in Pocahontas County. Andrew was seven years older than Connor.
“I'm dedicating this project to my friend Andrew O' Neil. He died recently. And he helped me a lot getting here, where I am now.”
Without his friend, Connor says he might not be spending his Saturdays at this community garden, and he might not be working towards his Eagle Scout badge. He sees the East End Garden as a community asset that can provide important community resources for years to come.
Dedicating this community service project to his friend, he says, just seemed to fit the kind of person that Andrew was. A person who would appreciate seeing more and more community gardens, like this one, continue to grow.