The excitement of cultivating vegetables and enjoying them with neighbors is palpable at the Lawrenceville Housing Authority’s community gardens.
With the Lawrenceville Woman’s Club leading the project, gardens were planted at two Housing Authority neighborhoods in the summer of 2016 and cultivated again in 2017. Woman’s Club Treasurer Cheryl Shaw credits Lawrenceville Mayor Judy Johnson with the idea.
“I sent her an email asking what we could do for the community and she put me in touch with the Housing Authority,” Cheryl recalls. “They had done a survey and residents had expressed interest in a garden.”
Raised in the city, Cheryl had never gardened but was willing to learn. The Housing Authority and local businesses donated fencing, soil, tools and lumber for raised beds.
A Jackson EMC Foundation grant was used to purchase more supplies, and the seeds were sown.
Now that the Woman’s Club, Housing Authority and the residents of Glen Edge and Hooper Renwick neighborhoods have two growing seasons behind them, they happily admit it’s been a learning experience, and a success.
“You learn by trial and error, and that’s what we’ve done,” says Cheryl, beaming with pride as she leads visitors through the gardens. When she meets up with Stephanie, a resident of Hooper Renwick and leader of its garden, the two chat about how the plot of property next to Stephanie’s apartment evolved from a grassy field to a sustainable garden.
“I was a city child, too, and never had a garden,” says Stephanie. She and Cheryl together attended vegetable gardening courses offered by the Gwinnett County Extension Service and used their newfound knowledge to plant last year’s premier gardens.
“I let the zucchini get as big as a watermelon because I didn’t know when to pick it,” Stephanie admits. “She thought the bigger the better,” Cheryl recalls, the new friends sharing a laugh. “We would have needed a wheelbarrow to haul it.”
At the community gardens, kids help plant, mulch, pick and clean up, according to Stephanie, whose 7-year-old grandson, Chad, delivers vegetables to residents who pay him with candy. Stephanie oversees the children’s garden club where officers have titles like “Compost Captain.” Many children have their own tiny garden patch at their apartment.
“There is pride now that two years ago wasn’t there,” says Woman’s Club President Brenda Perdue. “If someone dropped a piece of trash back then, they left it. Now they pick it up.”
Lejla Slowinski, director of operations for the Lawrenceville Housing Authority, welcomed the community gardens as a way to help residents, many on fixed incomes, supplement the food in their homes. The benefits have gone far beyond that. “It’s inspiring,” says Lejla. “We thought this would bring a sense of community, but we had no idea it would be to this extent. Information about gardening is passed on as neighbors take care of each other.”
The ladies point to Mattie Tuggle, 87 and leader of the garden at Glen Edge, as their garden guru. She grew up gardening and shares old lessons with the newbie gardeners.
“She taught me how to use my hands,” says Stephanie.
“I used to wear gloves, but she said, ‘You’ve got to feel the dirt.’ I used to be prissy. When I picked something I’d pour water on it and clean it, but now I’ll eat it right off the vine.”
Her gratitude is deep.
“I just want to thank Lejla, the Woman’s Club and the Jackson EMC Foundation,” says Stephanie. “Thank you for believing in us, for investing in us—and for giving me a hobby.”