Community Gardens Take Root on the Outer Banks

Inch-by-inch and row-by-row, many local gardeners have been turning barren plots of land into thriving gardens along the Outer Banks and there is a lot more than just seeds sprouting on these parcels. With a sense of community being such a huge part of the day-to-day life on these barrier islands, it is no surprise the community spirit has made its way into our local world of gardening.

Over the past few years, five community gardens have established roots on the Outer Banks and are creating not only bountiful yields of produce, but also camaraderie among residents who want to test their green thumb, tend a piece of land, or grow vegetables for themselves and needy residents. “It’s good for the soul,” Christine Buckner says of gardening in a community setting like the one at Kitty Hawk Town Park. “It’s very peaceful and very tranquil. And when there are other people down here, it is good company because we are all gardeners.” [divider]

✽ From Rocks to Roots: The Southern Shores Garden

SSCommunity-Gardens

Southern Shores Community Garden groundbreaking; from left to right: Lucinda Hudgins, Kaitlyn Hudgins, Linda Algood and Wade Tillett.

The first “community” seeds were planted in the northern Outer Banks’ earliest neighborhood garden in a small rocky lot next to East Carolina Bank in Southern Shores. The way Tommy’s Market owner Lucinda Hudgins explains it, the Southern Shores community garden was created almost by accident. While attending a statewide food conference at Wake Forest University in 2011, Lucinda and her husband, Stuart learned of the large number of children in the state and Dare County who were food insecure.

“We were surprised by what we learned and when we got home, the first thing my husband did was plant 300 seedlings in the garage,” Hudgins said. “But we had no place to put them in the ground.” At the same time, their daughter Kaitlyn was looking for internship (hoping to name a school or degree program here) opportunities and she set her sights on a community garden. She was able to work out an agreement with East Carolina Bank to use the plot of land next to the bank. “So we had the land. We just weren’t sure what to do with it,” Hudgins said.

But almost right away, local businesses and residents stepped in and donated time and supplies. Before they knew it, 10 gardening boxes were built and they were tilling the soil. One season later, volunteers were harvesting herbs, tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, peas, carrots and other vegetables.

Called “Dare to Grow,” the 2,000-square-foot fenced garden was soon a fertile piece of land being tended by a handful of locals. Over the next few years, the garden flourished and was used by local scout groups, residents and other organizations. “It was free to anyone who wanted to use it and we figured if people stole from it, it was because they needed it.” The majority of the vegetables grown were donated to local single moms struggling to feed their children.

While it lay dormant last planting season due to a lack of volunteers, Hudgins said it will be in full swing this growing season. “It is free, free, free. We want people to come and use it, plant what they want and benefit from it.”

While Dare to Grow was the first garden of its kind on the northern barrier islands, it would prove not to be the last. To the south, residents and community leaders were already planning gardens of their own.

Southern Shores Garden • Email: tommysgmarket@embarqmail.com • Lucinda Hudgins 252.261.8990

tree✽ Growing Ground: The Kitty Hawk Garden

It didn’t take long for a large parcel of land to be sowed once Kitty Hawk resident Christine Buckner suggested it for a community garden. The town and county jumped on board, and with Ray Casper and Son’s Septic offering their services, the Kitty Hawk Community Gardens was born. Now, 20 plots – each measuring 500 square feet – are being utilized to grow a smorgasbord of vegetables. “It has been a terrific thing,” says Jim Shipley, who regularly gardens at the spot with his wife Mary Ann. “We have been amazed at how much has come out of the garden.” Shipley said that the more people who see the success of the garden, the more he thinks they will come utilize it.

Annette Regala, an avid gardener at the site, says that while gardeners may not have experience, there are enough experienced gardeners to help you along. “So if you don’t have sun [or soil] in your yard, you can come down here and grow some vegetables and have a good time.” The gardens have yielded everything from broccoli and cauliflower to jalapeño peppers, strawberries and bell peppers. In fact, there are only about two months of the year that nothing is growing in the gardens. “We were picking kale and collards right up until the first snowstorm this winter,” Shipley said.

Kitty Hawk Garden • Email: khcgarden@charter.net • Jim Shipley 252.441.2630

✽ An Organic Venture: The Kill Devil Hills Garden

Meanwhile in Kill Devil Hills, Jack and Danielle James have begun work on an unimproved 100-by-50 foot plot of land on Goldie Street. A Memorandum of Understanding was signed between the couple and the Town of Kill Devil Hills earlier this year. Jack James says he plans to develop it into a neighborhood organic garden. “We should have something real pretty in three years or so,” he said. James envisions the site being a street garden that residents will either walk or bike to as there is no parking on the site. The piece of ground will be managed all year and the soil improved through a prepared organic method. James said, “It’s a slow method, but we have to feed the soil that feeds the plants that feed you.”

Kill Devil Hills Garden • Jack James 252.441.6739

✽ A Place Like Home: Roanoke Island Community Garden

MQI-garden-2Four years ago, Mano Al Hermano Executive Director Ginger Candelora had a vision to provide members of the island’s Latino community an area to garden. A year later, the community garden on the grounds of the Dare County airport provides just that. Mano Al Hermano, translates literally to mean “My Hand to My Brother” or more loosely as “Helping your Brother.” Its Nags Head offices house the nonprofit organization whose mission is to help Latino residents become an integral part of the community and promote cross-cultural understanding. It entered into a lease agreement free of charge with the county’s airport authority to convert the one and a half acres of land on Fields Drive to a community garden. Now 30 families garden the land, making it the largest community garden on the Outer Banks, according to volunteer garden manager Robert Perry.

Approximately half of the gardeners using the community garden are Latinos growing traditional Latino foods, including some exceptionally hot peppers, Perry said. However, the garden is open to any residents of Roanoke Island. There is also a community section with fruit plants such as berries, figs, apples, grapes and strawberries. “It is not unusual to see entire families out there working together on the plots,” Perry said. Excess produce is regularly donated to Mount Olivet Food Bank in Manteo.

Manteo Garden • Website: manoalhermano.org • Robert Perry 252.305.4569

✽ Island Grown: Coastal Harvesters, Inc.

Coastal Harvesters, Inc. is a nonprofit organization in Buxton with a half-acre garden located behind Fox Watersports. The first community garden of its kind on the Outer Banks, produce from Coastal Harvesters is sold at Hatteras Island Farmer’s Market. According to its website, the group also grew 131 pounds of fresh vegetables for Hatteras Island’s food pantries last year. The group aims to educate consumers about local food options and seasonal eating.
While the community gardens on the Outer Banks began as partnerships among land owners, the counties which supply the water, and gardeners and residents themselves, it is their purpose and sense of community that keep them fruitful. ♦

Hatteras Community Garden • Email: info@coastalharvesters.org

Michelle Wagner
Michelle Wagner is the editor at Three Dog Ink and has been living and writing on the Outer Banks for more than 15 years. Contact Michelle