Community Garden Expansion: Taking A Collaborative Approach

In 2020, Eat Smart Move More Richland County (ESMMRCC) received funding to support a local community garden. The coalition wanted to partner with an organization able to sustain proposed funds. “Sustainability was a huge factor during the decision process for this project“, stated TQ Davis, Chair for ESMMRCC. This project demonstrated the idea of community and unity by taking a collaborative approach to fulfill the mission that Koinonia of Columbia (KC), an Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD) non-profit in the community of Eau Claire, proposed. Founded by Kelly and David Strum, they see the power of nature equally in the growth and development of children and the village around them. KC aims to provide a fruitful and robust nation of good citizens. They believe children are key to this future.

The South Carolina Department of Health and Environment Control (SCDHEC) covered the proposed $5,000 project through a grant. The Midlands Community Systems Team of SCDHEC worked with the Central Midlands Council of Governments to provide grant funding to the ESMM Coalition for healthy eating initiatives. “Using this funding, the Coalition collaborated with the Eau Claire community to plan and implement sustainable food gardens as part of this project”, Susan Collier, SCDHEC Community Systems Director. Funds supported the expansion from 8 to 12 garden beds, along with supplies for building, gardening, and education. The educational gardens will be used for KC’s afterschool programs for neighborhood children.

Tecoria Jones, Program Manager, will be responsible for gardening maintenance and educational programming. “Koinonia is so appreciative to have been a recipient of the ESMM funding. We are thankful for the growth in the children, and in the community, this opportunity has presented”, said Jones. KC intends to continue providing hands-on learning through gardening as part of their afterschool curriculum.

The Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary (LTSS) of Lenoir-Rhyne University began its partnership with the KC a few years ago. Through collaboration with Robyn Marren, LTSS Director of Operations, Koinonia received approval to install the first raised beds a couple of years ago. Since then, the neighboring families, adult staff, and volunteers have grown vegetables in the gardens and sold the produce as a fundraiser for Transitions downtown shelter. In addition, during an LTSS Ethics class, students learned about asset-based community development from KC staff and board members. They also learned gardening through a hands-on harvesting event with children.

Ethics students also have participated in Koinonia’s mentoring and afterschool programming. “As a Christian seminary, our partnership with Koinonia demonstrates a theology that upholds a healing connection to land, food, and neighbors. When we grow good food together, we demonstrate what God’s beloved community can look like in action,” said Dr. Melanie Dobson, Assistant Professor, Lenoir-Rhyne (LR) University. The partnership allows LR to practice being a good neighbor, both in the sharing of land as a resource and in building relationships with local children.

In March 2020, ESMMRCC and KC, in collaboration with Lenoir Rhyne, broke ground on the educational garden expansion. With the approval from leadership from Lenior Rhyne, KC was able to map out and design a layout for the future beds. The funding supported the building of 2 (12’x4’) beds and 2 (4’x4’) wheelchair-accessible beds. Coalition members, KC staff, Lenior Rhyne staff, and students rolled their sleeves up to help build the proposed beds.

On Earth Day 2021, KC’s kids did their spring garden planting. Kids planted herbs, tomatoes, cucumbers, okra, peppers squash and currently have spinach, cabbage, and collard greens in their garden. This summer, Koinonia will be hosting Freedom School, a culture-specific framework sponsored by the Children’s Defense Fund. “We will be spotlighting and celebrating black culture. Watching and talking about how things evolve, will be an essential conversation”, explained Jones. The children of Koinonia will be seeing themselves in every book they read at Freedom School. The garden will also provide learning opportunities such as like agriculture, the water cycle, ecosystems, and entrepreneurship.

In addition, Select Health of South Carolina (SHSC), the oldest and largest Medicaid Care organization in South Carolina for over 26 years donated a garden bench to support the continuity of community’s mission for sustainable, healthy communities.  “It was SHSC deepest pleasure to support ESMMRC on the 2021 project at Koinonia’s Community Garden, which hosted the Spring Garden Planting – on Earth Day,” stated Addie Bors, SHSC Director of Community Education and Outreach. 

Community gardens bring positive activity to neighborhoods. They provide a source of fresh, affordable and local produce. Some produce is donated to the community and used in educational and nutritional cooking programs. This garden is an excellent learning tool in KC’s after-school program. The gardens will provide access to nature, healthy food, green infrastructure and ecological restoration for the community. 

We are thankful for all of our coalition members and community partners. It is our hope that these children will start having a natural love of gardening. We would love to see their enthusiasm spill over into other school subjects that are related to the garden – like science, art and math,” said TQ Davis.

If you are interested in learning more or joining the coalition, please visit our website or email TQ Davis: taquina.davis@prismahealth.org

Written by: Taquina Davis, MA

Published May 2021