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Thank you for four years of a growing community

Oct. 30, 2012 @ 12:00 AM

The Huntington Community Gardens volunteers are finishing up their fourth and final year of service to the community. They have educated young and old through dozens of outreach events and workshops, illustrated the many benefits of sustainable living and organic gardening, lent a hand to numerous area gardening efforts, and raised food for those in need, donating more than 500 pounds of produce this year alone.

As loudly and as sincerely as possible, I want to say "Thank You All!"

Because we are deeply proud of all our volunteers, especially our garden kids, we're hosting a final Halloween "Thank You" Celebration at the Barnett Center from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 31. All our volunteers are welcome to come share food, roast marshmallows, and dance to some cool music.

Since the beginning of this effort, I have been humbled by the magnitude of support from everyone. Jennifer Williams and I had a little idea that became so big because so many volunteered to help.

In 2008, bronchitis, laryngitis, and asthma had me laid-up for months. I had no energy, had to quit my job, and didn't know when or if I would recover. The "Interwebs" gave me a way to "get out of the house" without leaving my air-conditioned basement, nebulizer treatments, or HEPA air filter. So, in August, when a friend emailed me a link to a new online forum focused on positive ideas for Huntington, I followed it and joined the group. This Create Huntington apparently also held "Chat-n-Chew" discussions every Thursday. Although I really wanted to go, their website had to suffice. There were so many great posts from inspired residents.

Soon I had an idea of my own. Why not work to transform vacant lots into food-producing gardens? We could feed the hungry while educating on ways to grow food. I kept myself busy for months, rounding out the concept, researching properties and grants, and inviting people to comment. But, in the end, I didn't know if I would be able to turn the first spade of dirt.

Unbeknownst to me, there was another lady inspired to do the same, but she didn't know much about gardening. Jennifer was meditating in Harris Riverfront Park surrounded by the beauty of nature when a persistent thought kept nagging her: grow more gardens. It wasn't long before she posted her idea on the Create Huntington website.

Eventually we connected our ideas, and it was simply amazing. On March 1, 2009, we had our first meeting at the Cabell County Library. On March 14, we met at the Barnett Center where, only a week later, we broke ground on our initial Learning Garden. Within one month, after so many came to help, we hosted our first Earth Day celebration. Jennifer had pulled numerous groups to participate, plus a few big names including Mayor Kim Wolfe, Marshall University President Stephen J. Kopp, and then-Gov. Joe Manchin. More than 300 community members joined us in the garden that day, and it was beautiful.

Since then we've had hundreds of volunteers, ages 1 through 81, come through our gardens and contribute thousands of hours. A core few, including Stephanie Conley, Alexandra Goswami, Capri Billings, Caspar Harris and Diane Styles, were just as crazy passionate about our labor of love as Jenn and I, each having dedicated a great amount of their time and themselves.

The city of Huntington, West Virginia extension agencies, Marshall University, area organizations and businesses have all shared their support. We especially want to thank the Barnett Center for four years of letting us dirty up their hallways, kitchen, and patio, as we dug in the dirt to educate, empower, and grow community. Plus, through the SCRATCH program, the Barnett Center, and the Fairfield West Improvement Council, many of the gardens we helped start will continue to bloom and nourish.

It has been a wonderful experience, and I'm sincerely thankful to each and every volunteer and supporter. We proved that by working together we CAN grow a greener, healthier Huntington.

Eve Marcum-Atkinson is a resident of Huntington. For more information about Create Huntington, visit www.createhuntington.com or join us on Facebook at Facebook.com/groups/createhuntington. Tax-deductible donations can be sent to The Create Huntington Foundation, Inc. at P.O. Box 1187, Huntington, WV 25714, or through our website. Your donations help fund our Matching Grants program, community outreach projects, and more.