- Associated Press - Saturday, March 26, 2016

CARBONDALE, Ill. (AP) - There are about as many models for community gardens as there are gardens.

Many community gardens offer a space to garden in exchange for a small amount of rent for the growing season. At other gardens, volunteers work together and share the harvest.

Common Greens has two garden projects in Carbondale, one on Birch Street and the other on Marion Street.

“We are starting our next community garden complex, Birch Street Community Garden. We are going to try to get a special use permit from the city for a greenhouse,” said Sorrel Kunath of Common Greens. “It’s about a block wide. We are trying to get folks involved in the committee to make plans.”

Their first garden, Marion Street Community Garden at 301 N. Marion St., offers garden plots to members of the community in exchange for a small amount of rent. Kunath said the rent basically pays the water bills. It currently has 22 raised beds.

Last year, the Marion Street Community Garden had five or six neighborhood families rent space and another three or four who lived outside the neighborhood. A youth group also used several spaces in the garden. Common Greens is planning to install a rainwater collection system and plant some fruit trees.

“In the spirit of ‘Can you Dig This,’ we’d like to get local folks involved,” Kunath said.

Kunath said volunteers are needed at both gardens. The work of clearing at Birch Street Community Garden has already begun.

“They can basically volunteer with us and we will provide the space for them to garden,” Kunath said.

Marion Street is set up for renting. A household can have more than one plot if all of the plots are not claimed.

“Both gardens are previously owned by the city. It is our second successful attempt to convert vacant land,” Kunath said. “We hope to maintain good relationship with the city.”

To volunteer or for more information, contact Kunath at commongreens.org@gmail.com or call 618-303-0703.

Flyover Community Gardens offers volunteers a chance to work in exchange for produce. Volunteers work in the garden throughout the growing season, and they will receive a share of fresh produce.

The garden includes 15 raised beds and a food forest. The raised beds follow a hugelkultur model, meaning the beds are raised by burying logs and covering them with soil and mulch.

The garden group meets Sundays at Flyover Infospace across the street from the garden.

Orlan and Chastity Mays of Mustard Seed Sowers Urban Farm use their community garden to educate the public about gardening in general, as well as sustainable gardening techniques.

Because the garden is located in a neighborhood, a lot of people stop to admire the garden and ask questions.

“We don’t have where you can rent space. People can come, see what we are doing and ask questions,” Chastity Mays said. “We are in the community and want to start the conversation. They can come to us any time and we will teach them about sustainable growing.”

Mays said they saw the empty lot seven years ago and wanted to get their own garden plot and grow their own food. The couple is committed to using no chemicals or machinery in their garden. They wanted to show people that gardening does not require fancy equipment. The garden now has a hoop house, too.

“Orlan is the one who grows all the food,” she said. “He does all the hard work.”

The couple also works with children a lot, mostly through a literacy program. They have been coming to the garden once a week to work and will be responsible for growing their own food.

“Teaching them at a young age is important, and teaching about the health benefits of fresh vegetables. They will be able to do this on their own,” Mays said.

The Mays sell their produce at the winter indoor farmers market on Saturday mornings in Carbondale Community High School. On April 20, the market will move to an outdoor spot in the heart of Carbondale.

For the Mays, the best judge of their success is their influence.

“We had a neighbor who had never eaten kale, but he watched us grow it for several years. He asked about it, and we gave him some. He now eats kale on a regular basis,” Mays said.

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Source: The (Carbondale) Southern Illinoisan, http://bit.ly/1P2XBu3

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Information from: Southern Illinoisan, http://www.southernillinoisan.com

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