By ANGYE MORRISON
A community garden in Statesboro may soon be a reality.
“People around Statesboro have been talking about the idea of a community garden for quite some time,” says Marcus Toole, resource development coordinator for Habitat for Humanity of Bulloch County. “Various organizations have kicked it about, but no one has pulled the trigger on starting a community garden.”
Habitat for Humanity of Bulloch County is very involved in neighborhood revitalization, and Toole says the idea of the community garden could be a “great part of an overall neighborhood revitalization project.”
A meeting was held earlier this month so that interested parties could take part in the discussion to develop the garden. Toole says those in attendance at the meeting showed that there is community buy-in for the garden, and that they are beginning a conversation with Keep Statesboro Bulloch Beautiful about them running it.
“From Habitat’s perspective, that would be the best case scenario,” he said. “That ball is in the court of their board. They’re open to the idea, but they will have to make some formal decisions. I think the answer is looking like it might be yes, but you can’t commit them to it yet, because the board hasn’t officially looked at it yet.”
Keep Statesboro Bulloch Beautiful officials have declined to comment just yet.
Habitat has earmarked a property at the corner of Bay Street and West Main for the project. The property has been donated to Bulloch’s Habitat affiliate, and Toole says they could build a house there, but the half-acre property is better suited for a garden.
“The property is low and leans toward being kind of wet. We would have to bring in filler if we built a house on it and that’s expensive,” he said.
Even though Bulloch’s Habitat affiliate is involved in the early stages of the project, Toole says they are not interested in running the garden.
“Habitat has no plan or expectation of going into the community garden business,” he said. “Nor do we really want to run one. But we figured we could just sort of be the ignition switch that starts the project, and then we would either hand it off to another organization or give it to the city, or set up an independent 501(c)(3) type of nonprofit.”
Toole says that Habitat sees the community garden as something that will benefit the larger revitalization effort, and something that will actually benefit the housing in the long run. He adds that the garden will get a much faster result for revitalization than building houses would.
“Even though it costs money, it’s not the same level of money that it would be to replace the housing in a whole neighborhood. So it’s a much faster thing that you get a result quickly, that benefits the community,” he said.
Toole says that Habitat is working to get the investments and grant money needed to establish and maintain the garden.
“The biggest thing is we’ve got to get some money,” he said. “Habitat has applied for a $35,000 grant, and we will apply for more grants.” He added that people can donate now by earmarking a donation to Statesboro’s Habitat as being for the community garden. A website is being created as well, which will allow donations directly to the garden.
As for when the garden might be open, Toole says it’s anybody’s guess, but he’s hoping it will be open by next year’s planting season.
“But it depends on two big things: one is, are we able to find the money to do it. And No. 2 is, are we able to get an entity that will actually run it,” he said.
Toole says the set-up of the garden is also under discussion and evolving, and people who attended the meeting earlier this month offered concepts as well. The set-up could be individual plots where each gardener has a plot; a garden with community volunteers where the produce is available to the community; or a combination of the two. Toole says he favors the individual plots, because it would be easier to manage, which he feels would be “more realistic in terms of what kind of management structure Statesboro would be able to pull off.”
Toole has no idea how things will pan out, but he says it will likely depend on the organization that runs it. In the meantime, Habitat is just trying to lay the foundation.
“We’re trying to draw people together. We’re trying to initiate an effort. We are providing a legal and organized way for people to donate toward and volunteer for it now,” he said.
For more information or to donate, follow the Boro Community Garden on Facebook.