A resident at Southern Ridge Estates, an apartment complex for senior citizens managed by Anniston Housing Authority, Wright and her neighbors had the chance to pick fresh fruits and vegetables from the first community garden planted there since the complex opened in 2004.
Thursday, residents gathered to celebrate the beginning of their second growing season with a cookout and plant giveaway.
“It brings us together,” said Mexye McClendon, an eight-year resident of the complex. “That’s a good thing.”
McClendon said the pavilion where the garden is located is a good place for residents to come sit and visit with one another and get a little gardening in.
Terri Lloyd, property manager at Southern Ridge, said she wanted to do something to get residents involved. The project also coincided with required seminars for the residents: programs on health and the effects of the garden on their grocery bills.
The garden at Southern Ridge uses a unique setup: bags of soil laid flat on sheets of plastic, with vegetables planted in cut-out holes and covered with straw.
Lloyd said she initially wanted to create a tilled garden, but could not do that until the soil was cleared as free of contamination by the Environmental Protection Agency. But a conversation with Jerry Miller, a live nursery specialist at Lowe’s, led her to using the Miracle-Gro bags as an above-ground garden. The method is basically an alternative to building raised beds, she said. Using bags, she added, means the resident gardeners don’t have to worry about the possibility of contaminated soil and don’t have to exert as much effort weeding.
Miller said he got the idea for the bag gardening method when a friend and avid gardener became injured and couldn’t continue his traditional in-ground method. After giving it a try, MIller said, the bags required very little weeding and had higher yields than previous gardens. When watered, the moisture collects in the bag.
Last year, the residents had to cart water down to the pavilion from the apartments in buckets, but the housing authority has since installed a spigot and run a hose down to the garden for more convenient watering.
The residents are free to work the garden and pick fresh beans, peppers, okra, strawberries and other produce sprouting up from the Miracle-Gro bags, Lloyd said.
Corene Leonard, 62, said working in the community garden was much easier than she expected.
“That was my first time ever trying to grow anything,” she said. “I just came out and I had one squash and I just had a fit...I really enjoyed it; I was screaming everyday when something came up.”
The first attempt of the project has received praise from other agencies.
The community garden won the 2012 “Best Practice of the Year” award from the Alabama Association of Housing and Redevelopment Authority as well as honorable mention from Nan-McKay & Associates for the 2012 Pioneer in Housing, a national program.
Work from last year will help fund this year’s garden in the form of a $1,500 grant from the Coosa Valley Resource Conservation & Development Council.
Wright, 60, credits her yield of fresh produce with helping her recover from stomach surgery last year.
“It really helped me,” she said. “Fresh vegetables are kind of expensive anyway; it’s free, and I just came out here and picked and ate off it.”
Wright said she also discovered vegetables from the garden tasted better than those she buys at the grocery store.
“I’m so blessed she put another garden out here,” she said.
Staff writer Paige Rentz: 256-235-3564. On Twitter @PRentz_Star.