Citizens Give Back In A Healthy Way
Like a ladle stirring a bowl of community pride, Elba’s Giving Garden creates a tasty recipe that combines volunteers, gardeners and students to help feed local families in need.
Volunteer and Elba native Chelsea Cooper is Giving Garden project manager. She said vegetables from the garden feed about 150 local families each month.
“My college friends always called me ‘Elba’ because I was Elba’s biggest cheerleader,” said Cooper, a University of South Alabama graduate. “I wanted to come back and make a difference. These are the people who have molded me and given me so much—it’s the least I can do.”
Cooper said the garden falls under the umbrella of Restoration 154, a non-profit group in Elba.
“We’re named for the 154 miles of the Pea River, and our goal is to have 154 projects that will help grow the community,” she said.
The garden, near the Pea River levee in downtown Elba, was started October 2014. It includes a tunnel house donated by the Wiregrass Resource, Conservation and Development (RC&D) Council, through the local Chamber of Commerce, plus raised-bed gardens.
Cooper said Elba High School vocational agriculture students helped build the raised beds, which produced tomatoes, okra, peppers, squash and a variety of other vegetables.
Coffee County Master Gardeners furnished funds for the first seven of these beds. Each bed subsequently had volunteer financial sponsors for annual seeding and fertilizer. Other project volunteers include 13 area churches, local civic organizations and interested citizens from across the U.S.
Volunteers from the Elba Food Bank come to the garden each Thursday to collect the healthy, fresh food.
“This is the kind of thing that really benefits a community more so than throwing money at a situation,” said Elba Food Bank volunteer Tommy Grimes. “A lot of sweat, work and effort goes into this.”
Victor Khan, a Tuskegee University plant science professor, created the tunnel house concept to grow crops year-round on less land. He continues his hands-on involvement with the successful operation of the tunnel house in Elba.
“The concept of a tunnel house is it looks like a greenhouse, but it’s not a greenhouse,” Khan said. “Light is trapped as it penetrates the clear plastic, and the protons bounce around to help heat the inside.”
James Currington, executive director of Wiregrass RC&D, said tunnel houses can be used for production agriculture. However, working with communities like Elba to provide fresh, healthy food is just as important, he said.
“I think this tunnel house has been a blessing, and we’re just getting started,” he added.
Plans are underway to expand the Giving Garden next year to include a fruit orchard, thanks to a $1,000 grant from Alabama Power Co. Cooper said she’d also like to see row crops added.
“You can see the tangible fruit—in this case vegetables—of our labor,” she said. “You can see the good you’re doing for the community, and that’s pretty cool.