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Members of a community garden

AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala. – A community is much more than a group of people. A community is activism, fellowship and brotherhood. A community cares for its own. These elements are at the core of the community of Athens, Alabama. Through the Athens Garden of Eating (A.G.E.) Well project, this community is striving to bring these elements together in a community garden setting.

A.G.E. Well Project

AGE Well GraphicThe A.G.E. Well community garden will provide a raised bed gardening area for the underserved members of the Athens community. These groups include veterans, low income households, individuals with physical limitations and those with limited gardening space.

Chris Becker, the Alabama Extension coordinator for Limestone County, said this project is near and dear to his heart and will be an incredible investment in the community.

“A garden offers so many benefits to the community, the residents and the participants in the garden,” Becker said. “We hope this serves as a reminder to those underserved groups that they matter and that their community has their backs.”

The Plans

During his time as a regional Extension agent in the Florence area, Becker planned, built and managed the Florence Community Garden. The A.G.E Well Project will use that garden as a framework.

The project will provide participants a raised bed with fertile soil, the needed seeds or transplants and a drip irrigation system. Alabama Extension professionals will provide support, education and garden management.

“The A.G.E. Well project will have approximately 25 beds for members of the community who meet the necessary criteria,” Becker said. “Twenty-five additional beds will be managed and grown by a community of volunteers, which will then provide the produce to members of the community in need.”

Plans are underway to have the A.G.E. Well community garden ready in time for spring planting.

Helping the Community

Becker said COVID-19 has brought attention to the many children who rely on schools to provide daily food. He said the A.G.E. Well community garden hopes to help fill some of those food insecurity gaps.

“For many children, if it the schools aren’t providing breakfast, lunch and sometimes even food for the weekends, they would go without,” he said. “Our goal is help provide food for those that need healthy, locally grown options.”

Children are not the only ones struggling with food insecurity. Becker said senior citizens have also had difficulties putting adequate food on the table during the pandemic.

“Many of the senior citizens in our community were concerned with leaving their homes and venturing to the store, fearing it wasn’t safe,” Becker said. “The garden will also help to provide seniors in our community with locally grown, fresh produce.”

The garden will also serve as a community teaching tool. Anyone interested will be able to learn about building raised beds, drip irrigation, pest management, cultural growing practices, harvesting and many other gardening aspects.

“Whether you are a participant growing in the garden, a volunteer helping or a community member walking by, the garden has something to provide,” Becker said.

Out with the Old

In addition to meeting real needs for many residents, the community garden will also serve as a community beautification project. The garden will be located on the site of a former poultry processing plant. After remaining vacant for many years, the previous eyesore for the residents of Athens will now become a lush garden, teeming with life.

Athens Mayor Ronnie Marks said he is excited about this project and hopes for it to be a place that will help educate young people and honor other members of the community.

“I love the idea of getting people energized for things like this. It is great for the community anytime we can get people involved in productive projects,” Marks said. “Chris (Becker) has had some great ideas for the garden, and I think the community will love it.”

Marks said the idea to revamp the abandoned plant site began nearly a decade ago. This garden is another step toward making the site a source of community pride.

“Years ago, people wanted to clean up a huge eyesore that was within walking distance to downtown,” Marks said. “Now, after spending much time and money, this area is on its way to becoming a place where our city can expand for the future.”

In addition to the garden, Marks said there are other plans to transform the area into an outdoor space that encourages community interaction and involvement.

“Mayor Marks has been a great supporter of the garden concept,” Becker said. “We also have access to more space to expand the garden in the future as needed.”

Help the Community and Get Involved!

Becker said in order for the garden to be successful, it will take the full dedication and support of the Athens community.

“We are asking local residents, business owners and anyone else interested to come and help us get this garden started on the right foot,” Becker said. “This garden is more than simply growing things in the ground. This is an opportunity for residents to help their neighbors and friends have a brighter future.”

Interested in supporting the A.G.E. Well Project financially or by volunteering? Contact Becker by phone at 256-275-2172 or email at cmb0034@aces.edu. You may also contact Amy Golden with the City of Athens at 256-262-1525.

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