Celebration salutes Peace and Unity Community Garden

Jun. 22, 2013 @ 08:49 PM

While it was probably good for the plants, a Saturday morning rain made for a wet ribbon-cutting at Sanford’s Peace and Unity Community Garden.

Despite the rain, about 50 people still showed up to cheer for the garden, which is located on a cul-de-sac on Hudson Avenue, running parallel to Washington Avenue just south of the Fields Drive intersection. Put together over the last year by community activist Crystal McIver, the garden’s dozens of plots are kept up by neighborhood residents and other people and businesses from all over town.

Saturday’s ceremony brought out an eclectic group of politicians, business leaders, agricultural experts and regular folks. It was hosted by the Sanford Area Chamber of Commerce, and Sanford Mayor Cornelia Olive and Mayor Pro Tem Samuel Gaskins came to show their support, as did Lee County Commissioner Kirk Smith, who said he was especially interested in getting fertilizing tips for his own garden. But the crowd was mostly made up of those who have helped tend a plot at the garden themselves, from toddlers to senior citizens.

Almost everyone stayed after the ribbon was cut, too, braving the rain to take advantage of various activities. There was face painting, hula-hooping and music, plus booths with master gardeners from the Lee County Cooperative Extension giving out tips on how to grow and cook healthy foods. There was also a tent playing off the gardening theme and soliciting “budding ideas” from people in attendance as to how their neighborhood might improve.

Adults wrote things like “closer grocery stores” and children advocated for bike lanes and basketball courts, but the common theme was one of a neighborhood with a greater sense of community. That’s exactly what McIver — who also works as a life coach as well as a human resources development instructor at Central Carolina Community College — intended when she started a garden in this same spot a year ago. She told The Herald at the time she hoped the garden would allow people in the neighborhood, especially children, to “see something creative, not destructive.”

Now, the garden has grown far bigger than the 14 plots it began with a year ago, and while neighborhood children do still tend plants on some plots, many businesses and clubs have also gotten in on the action, bringing a wider group of people to the working-class neighborhood and even benefiting groups and people who aren’t there, like Christians United Outreach Center, whose food pantry receives regular donations from the garden.

Olive said she hopes many other projects like this one pop up around the city.

“You seized an opportunity to unify our community through a wonderful garden,” she said, also noting the forethought of including a handful of raised dirt plots so that disabled people would be able to join the garden. Testifying to that, at least one man in a wheelchair came to the ribbon-cutting.

“That is thinking of everybody, and being inclusive of everybody,” Olive said.

For McIver, though, focusing on everybody just makes sense; she said Saturday that this venture could only have been successful with a full community effort.

“I just want to say thank you, thank you, thank you,” she told the crowd. “This could not have happened without each and every one of you.”