Morris’ first thought was to call the neighboring Head Start preschool and have the classes come out one at a time to show the children the caterpillars munching on the leaves.
That demonstration on the life cycle of a caterpillar captures the garden’s unique goal of giving area children a nature lesson outdoors.
In April, the North Marietta Neighborhood Community Garden partnered with WellCare Health Plans, Inc., which manages health care services for government-sponsored programs like Medicaid and Medicare.
The partnership is part of WellCare’s sponsorship of 22 community gardens across Georgia in an effort to promote healthy eating habits to low-income youth and their families.
“Community gardeners and their children eat healthier, more nutrient-rich diets than non-gardening families,” said Dr. Sandra White, WellCare’s state medical director for Georgia.
On a half-acre property at 359 Pine Street sits the North Marietta Neighborhood Community Garden on what was once the property of Allgood Elementary
The school building is leased by Head Start, which gave permission to the local community group to build a garden in an area next to the playground that was not used or overrun with brush.
The community garden provided a space for the 200 students in the Head Start program last year, and the additional funding by WellCare will more than double the amount of raised beds from 5 to 11 for next school year.
Morris said the Allgood neighborhood has limited access to fresh food, and is surrounded by fast food options and gas stations.
By teaching about agriculture to kids ages 3 and 4, as well as their families, the community can learn healthy eating habits in an outdoor classroom.
Morris said the idea for the North Marietta Neighborhood Community Garden originated five years ago with the North Marietta Neighborhood Association to build relationships in the community.
“Gardening is a great common denominator of people,” Morris said.
A committee was formed to govern the garden, which is made of volunteers from the Cobb County Master Gardeners project who are trained at the University of Georgia.
A small group surveyed the area for two years before finding the right open space, Morris said.
The community built and installed raised beds, 4 feet by 8 feet, that cost about $100 each to make, with mulch walkways between them.
The group also cleared a section of diseased pines off the land, which could double the size of the garden, but efforts to pull out the stumps and root systems have been stalled by long periods of rain this summer.
“This was a jungle of invasive vines and weeds,” Morris said pointing to the back corner.
The Master Gardeners plan to plant rows of crops in the deforested area, such as beans and corn.
Planting a seed
The North Marietta Neighborhood Community Garden is in its second growing season and has an empty bed to be filled by one of the few wait-listed families.
Morris said garden members lease a plot for $25 a year and must prepare, plant and maintain their own space.
Ten beds are set aside for Master Gardeners to demonstrate techniques to the community, and include flowers that draw in insects that help with pollination.
“You have some curb appeal and it is shows what we are doing,” Morris said.
Last year, Waste Management gave Keep Marietta Beautiful a $5,000 “Think Green Grant” that was then donated to the North Marietta Neighborhood Community Garden to purchase a 12-foot by 12-foot shed for the property, said Morris.
This year, $3,500 was given that might be used to extend an underground waterline and add a drip irrigation system, Morris said.
Morris said any group starting a community garden should be around a dozen people because some “may fall by the wayside.”
Although she heads the steering committee, Morris said the success of the garden cannot be based on one person.
For instance, the North Marietta Neighborhood Community Garden schedules various members to fulfill watering, grass cutting, and weed pulling needs.
The committee also is aware of which members own a truck for hauling or have carpentry skills to build a new gate.
“I know it sounds corny, but is really takes a village,” Morris said.