A tiny seed fallen in even the most neglected corner can take root and blossom with a regular course of light and love. In a derelict lot at the dead end of the Neck’s Romney Court, such a seed took the form of a youth-group’s proposal. “The idea was born in 2014 with six young teens who wanted to initiate a service project that would impact the neighborhood in which they worshipped,” says Edelle Gaillard, Sunday school superintendent at New Israel Reformed Episcopal Church (NIREC).
Nurtured by discussions with church leaders, the City of Charleston, and Historic Charleston Foundation (HCF), the teens’ original goal—to simply clear overgrowth and debris from the lot near their sanctuary—quickly germinated into a bountiful vision for a community garden.
Such a green space can have a big impact, notes April Wood of HCF, which provided seed funds to help establish the Romney Urban Garden. She explains, “By giving access to fresh organic produce, opportunities for physical activity, interaction with nature, and a sense of community purpose, urban gardens have been proven to promote physical, social, and mental well-being in diverse communities.”
Two years later, the thriving garden offers rentable raised beds alongside a shared plot from which “anyone in the community can pick produce,” says youth group member Reagan Pickering. “This encourages healthy eating habits.” Local artists added mosaic murals and a wrought-iron entry arch, while brightly painted picnic tables and a cob oven set the stage for neighborhood gatherings.
Trained and mentored by Elizabeth Beak and Katy Quinn of local sustainable agriculture consulting practice Crop-Up, the Youth Leadership Team cares for the entire garden, keeps up the community plot, and assists neighbors with their rented beds. Holding regular planning meetings, members lead the way in community outreach and fundraising and will soon take on management of an observation beehive being installed by the Bee Cause Project.
“A lot of hard work goes into preparing and maintaining a garden, but I’ve learned that in the end, it really pays off,” says Pickering. And in fact, on November 17, the entire Youth Leadership Team will receive Charleston magazine’s Future Philanthropist Award during a National Philanthropy Day luncheon held by the South Carolina Lowcountry Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (afplowcountry.afpnet.org). Join them at the event, or simply stop by Romney Court to offer congratulations on a garden well grown.