Learning and growing at Big Ivy Community Center’s first Unity Garden

Big Ivy’s Unity Garden is in its first year.

Barnardsville – It’s late summer in the Unity Garden, the new community garden at Barnardsville’s Big Ivy Community Center. The crickets are singing, the sunflowers are six feet tall and the squash is fat in the fading vines. 

Community gardens are known to improve gardener health and nutrition, to engage children in the natural world, to increase self-sufficiency and strengthen neighborhoods. The Big Ivy Unity Garden, in its first year, even in a pandemic, may have begun delivering those benefits. 

As harvest nears, co-founding gardeners Kelly Gaskill and Scotty Karas assess the season and plan for the next.

“Our intention in creating this garden is to create a space that will engage the different social groups residing in Barnardsville as well as provide a learning opportunity, especially for children,” said Gaskill of the small, sun-filled garden in front of the community center’s thrift store. Its towering sunflowers can be seen from Dillingham Road.

This spring, Gaskill and Karas, both of Barnardsville, suggested the garden to the community center board as a way to bring together neighbors who wouldn’t otherwise meet.

“The Big Ivy Community Center is a tremendous resource to this community, and we hope to help to enliven the space with beauty and food and human connection,” she said.

All summer, they hosted one workday each month working in the garden, planting and weeding, then playing volleyball, making ice cream and playing games. 

“We have had good turn-outs at the workdays,” she said. “Up to 20 or so people, lots of kids.”

So far, it’s just been the pair’s circle of friends, but post-pandemic, they hope to expand outreach to invite different groups. 

“We want to make a physical connection for children to experience where food comes from. We want to empower people of all ages to grow their own food and cultivate resilience. We want to learn from one another,” Gaskill said. 

To do that, they planted pumpkins, winter squash and sunflowers for their low maintenance, but also for their “flare and a bellowing beauty,” said Gaskill. “We wanted to catch people’s eye!”

Like all gardeners, the two have plans for expanding the garden next year, offering educational gardening and local food and craft workshops.

“Our hope is that the greater community will come together, create connections, have fun and maybe even learn some things while doing so!” 

A modest harvest festival is planned for the autumn equinox, Sept. 21, 2020. 

“We will definitely harvest the bounty of squash and pumpkins with plans to donate it to the food bank that is held every Tuesday at the community center,” Gaskill said. “Lots of hands have come together to make this happen, it truly is the Unity Garden- a garden for everyone!”

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