Georgia corps enlists many to grow H.O.P.E.
By: David Ibata and Captain Mechelle Henry
The H.O.P.E. Garden of The Salvation Army corps in Athens, Georgia, does a lot more besides supplying fresh produce to the corps soup kitchen; it rallies local organizations behind a worthy cause and brings out dozens of volunteers in some of the hottest months of the year to dig, hoe and weed.
H.O.P.E. stands for “Helping Other People Eat” – homeless individuals and families in the North Georgia city that’s home to the University of Georgia. The garden was planted in 2014 on Army-owned land at 484 Hawthorne Ave. by the Athens Corps working with David Hagaman, master gardener with the UGA Athens Area Master Gardener Association.
To be sure, the project is labor-intensive; the region sees two growing seasons a year.
“We clear the beds in February, then from February until March we prepare the beds for crops,” said Captain Erik Henry, who serves as Athens corps officer with his wife Captain Mechelle. “Through the summer, we keep the beds and rows clear of weeds and other overgrowth, and pull the crops as they come in.
“Then, when summer is coming to a close, we have in August and September another time of growth before winter. Certain crops do better during that time frame and are pulled before November.”
Cucumbers, squash, onions, peppers, okra, beans, peas, tomatoes, potatoes, pumpkins and a fig tree are among the crops grown with the assistance of The Salvation Army Service Society, UGA students, Athens First United Methodist Church, Athens Land Trust, United Way, Athens Academy, Classic City Church and the Clark Central High School football team, to name some of the participants.
Volunteers do most of the turning and tilling of the soil in February and March, Captain Erik said. They help re-line the irrigation tubes and carry weeds and debris to the mulch station. Then, they help plant the crops, using seeds provided by the Master Gardeners.
“Throughout the season, groups pull crops and deliver them to our Family Shelter to be used in our shelter kitchen,” Captain Erik said.
The Salvation Army of Athens H.O.P.E. Garden was the recipient of the 2015 Community Garden of the Year award at the Athens GreenFest, a community celebration of environmental sustainability.