by Ryan Nix | Photos by Jamison Mosley
Nestled in the foothills of the Ouachita Mountains, the 4-H Vines Center is surrounded by natural beauty. Inspired by its lush forests, the Vines Center last year partnered with the Master Gardeners of Arkansas to build a demonstration garden. With dozens of raised beds sprawling over nearly one-third of an acre, the demo garden is open to any Vines Center guests who wander through and, it is hopeful, learn a bit about the variety of vegetation they grow.
The Vines Center garden is far more than just a display garden, however. Over the past spring and summer, they’ve had more than 200 students come through during 4-H’s culinary camp with the garden providing a farm-to-table perspective on the culinary arts. The students picked squash, eggplants and tomatoes for their fresh dishes. They also picked and pickled the garden’s cucumbers. They also have an in-house apiary and many of the resident Master Gardeners are also practiced beekeepers.
Using vegetable varieties native to Arkansas, the Vines garden provides a fresh perspective to aspiring gardeners. While the demonstration garden will fully open to the public this spring, they are currently accepting registrations from schools for their fall vegetable programs, wherein students will plant, nurture and harvest autumnal varieties of squash and carrots.
In the spring, interested applicants can visit the Vines Center for garden classes on heritage roses, at-home herb gardens, composting and integrated pest management. Later, they’ll begin holding farm-to-table receptions for guests at the 4-H Vines Center. According to Kathy Ratcliffe, Master Gardener and head of development for the demonstration garden, their goal is, “for every visitor to the garden to take something away and replicate for themselves in their homes or own neighborhood gardens.”
Lonoke County Library’s Community Garden
This fall, join Lonoke’s Marjorie Walker McCrary Memorial Library in celebrating the 10th anniversary of its community garden. Made up of eight raised beds planted and facilitated by eight Master Gardeners local to the Lonoke area, the 1,500 square feet of planting space provides ample room for any aspiring gardener to partake in a plethora of programs, which take place on the second and fourth Saturdays of each month.
Their programs range from planting pumpkins to a running metamorphosis workshop, where kids can watch and learn the full process a caterpillar takes to become a butterfly. They also offer a “Busy Bees” program for grade-school kids, where a professional beekeeper holds classes about the importance of natural pollinators in our ecosystem. The community garden is free to use and open to anyone with horticultural inclinations. This fall, they’ll be focusing on growing autumn flowers, herbs and pumpkins. “Our programs are free and always will be,” says Deborah Moore, the library’s director. “We’re committed to helping kids and adults learn about the world they live in, through our catalog and our garden.”
St. Joseph Center
Since 2013 the St. Joseph Center has preserved the venerable building and surrounding areas of the St. Joseph Orphanage in North Little Rock, while simultaneously providing educational, artistic and agricultural opportunities on its 60 acres of farmland. While much of the farm is focused on providing produce for its farm stand, the St. Joseph Center also contains a wide variety of other projects and programs, including a vibrant community garden. Conceived via a partnership with North Little Rock’s FIT2LIVE program six years ago, its community garden is comprised of 42 raised beds, each rented out annually to anyone with $50 and a passion for horticulture. The St. Joseph Center provides irrigation, compost, a greenhouse and any tools their gardeners might need. Due to the popularity of the program, every bed is filled, but those interested are encouraged to join the waitlist.
In addition to the community garden, St. Joseph also partnered with Arkansas Master Naturalists to plant a pollinator garden with a 15-hive apiary, meant to educate community members about the life cycles of bees and their environmental impact. Beyond the pollinator garden, St. Joseph also provides a demonstration garden with keyhole beds, vertical pallets, air pruning pots, raised and traditional beds; the latter being flat and wide enough to ensure wheelchair accessibility. St. Joseph’s is also proud to serve the community of North Little Rock with their hunger-relief garden, now in its third year. The fruits and vegetables of the hunger relief garden are planted, cared for and harvested entirely by volunteers, providing the Arkansas Food Bank with 10,000 pounds of produce each year since 2016.
The St. Joseph Center fills their acreage with volunteers from all walks of life, and provides educational programs and workshops every third Saturday, covering everything from seed swaps to methods for extending the growing season. On November 2, St. Joseph’s will hold its third-annual Urban Homesteading Conference, offering workshops in canning, preserving, sustainability and other vital aspects of self-sufficient living. “Our workshops are important, but more than that St. Joseph’s goal is promoting camaraderie and community involvement,” says Sandy DeCoursey, director of the nonprofit, “We have gardeners from all walks of life working and learning together to benefit themselves and our community, and I think that’s fantastic.”