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AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala. – Many have the giving spirit around the holidays, but the Autauga County Master Gardeners keep that spirit alive all year. For more than 15 years, this group has been growing vegetables to share.

Every  Tuesday, Master Gardeners meet at their demonstration garden to harvest fresh produce for the Autauga Interfaith Care Center (AICC). They donate an average of 1,000 pounds of fresh produce each year. However this year, they expect the garden to produce more than 1,500 pounds by the year’s end.

The Master Gardener Volunteer Program is an educational volunteer-recruitment program offered through the Alabama Cooperative Extension System. Volunteers work with Extension to bring the latest horticultural information to their communities as well as provide service to their communities in other ways.

Garden of Bounty

The Master Gardeners demonstration garden sits in front of the Prattville Library on the bank of the Autauga Creek. A mixture of flowers to attract pollinators and vegetables for low-income city and county residents fill the raised beds. All recipients of the garden’s bounty are identified through AICC. This ensures the food goes to those in need.

Rose McCauley became a Master Gardener (MG) in 2011 and oversaw garden operations for about four years.

“The demo garden has always been an important part of the community,” McCauley said. “We enjoy the work and look forward to providing for those in our county who visit the AICC.”

Each year the group plants Southern garden staples. These include peas, okra, tomatoes, potatoes, carrots, corn, sweet potatoes, kale, cabbage, eggplant and basil—among other things.

“We have a spring, summer and fall vegetable rotation, but we try to incorporate new vegetables on a regular basis,” said Glenn Huovinen, the current demo garden director.

Huovinen said the demo garden was home to red okra this year for the first time.

“We tried a red okra variety that lasts longer after picking, allowing those who receive it to have a longer window to use it,” he said. “Red okra is not what Southern residents are accustomed to seeing, but it was good.”

“We deliver fresh produce to the AICC after picking each Tuesday,” McCauley said. “Some weeks our produce donation may be the only fresh vegetables that a family takes home. We love being able to provide that food for our neighbors in Autauga County.”

Demonstration Garden History

Debbie Boutelier, current Autauga County Master Gardeners president, was a 4-H agent in Autauga County when Alabama Extension received the grant to build a non-traditional community garden in 2003. After completing the initial requirements, the Master Gardeners—in partnership with the AICC and the City of Prattville—assumed the garden’s operation. Sixteen years of tending gardens and thousands of pounds of produce later, this partnership is still going strong.

Boutelier said the group recently applied for a grant to improve infrastructure and implement intensive growing methods to maximize use of their space.

“Each Master Gardener intern has a hand in the garden as they begin the MG program, but there are some who are dedicated demo garden tenders,” Boutelier said. “There have been four demo garden chairpersons in the 16 years it has been operational. This really drives home the outreach mission of the community garden. Many of our members feel that the demo garden is their local ministry and treat it as such.”

Good for Everyone

Mallory Kelley, a regional Extension agent who serves as the local Master Gardener program coordinator, said the garden is in a prominent, visible location. This allows the people to use the garden for demonstrations and education.

“The original intent of the garden was to demonstrate ways for community members to grow their own garden at home and to teach people where produce comes from,” Kelley said. “It has turned into so much more. The beautiful garden location allows for good education, but most of all it really has an impact on the community—which is the main goal.”

More Information

For more information about gardening, or to find out how to become a Master Gardener, visit Alabama Extension online.

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