Rockport woman starts community garden

August 12, 2011 6:23:18 AM PDT
The seeds planted in Judy Sanders' youth growing up in Three Rivers have grown into a community garden that soon will take root in Rockport.

Sanders, 61, was watching a TV program in which a woman described being down on her luck, losing her job and managing to sustain her family because of a community garden. Then a friend of the family asked for gardening lessons.

A few months later she created a nonprofit group, Aransas County Community Garden, and organized an effort that ultimately would bring 10,000 square feet of elevated bed gardening to the community.

"It's not a hobby for me," she said. "It's a way of life."

She called her county's Texas AgriLife Extension office for advice and later talked to County Judge Burt Mills about conducting a survey to see if there was any interest. She then collected more than 250 signatures in support and went to the Rockport City Council.

There was much discussion on an appropriate site for the garden and she rallied a group of volunteers who went to work with Rockport's Park and Leisure Services Advisory Board.

About six months later, the council unanimously approved a five-year lease agreement, which would allow the group to start gardening on public land in Mathis Park.

"It just snowballed," Sanders said while sitting a few yards from the future site of the community garden.

Mathis Park wasn't being used, so converting part of it into a garden made sense, said Tom Staley, director of parks and leisure services. He said the city hopes the group will bring more vitality to the park.

The nonprofit will provide most of the tools, soil and plans to help teach the community how to garden.

Sanders said that space in the garden is open to everyone in the community.

Richard Snyder, a director with the group, said the group will give the plots to individuals or families on a first-come first-serve basis.

Most of the plots will be about 4 feet by 8 feet and be raised 18 inches above the ground to avoid damaging the land. Snyder said there will be gardening beds accessible for people in wheelchairs and about 100 available plots depending on the size of the beds.

Families will be able to garden for a modest yearly fee that would help pay for water usage. He said if families can't afford the fee they can volunteer extra time in the garden.

Growers can keep fruits and vegetables their plot yields for their household, donate the produce or sell them at a farmers market.

The garden would only be open a few hours a day.

Snyder said the garden will help gauge the community's interest. If it's successful, the group could open additional locations in Rockport.

Sanders said this is just the start. She said the group is accepting donations and looking for volunteers.

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