By Emma Bowen Meyer, For The Herald Bulletin
ANDERSON — Looking for locally grown vegetables with no hint of pesticides? Enjoy the atmosphere of a farmer’s market? Time is running out to become a shareholder in Anderson’s own community garden.
Seedlings are already in the ground of the Community Supported Agriculture farm operated by the Center for Mental Health (CMH).
Responses were so positive after the pilot season last year that the organization decided to expand the program this year.
“We thought the idea of a pesticide-free, organically-grown, locally-produced produce was a good thing,” said Randy Titus, a returning shareholder from last year. “We like knowing where the food comes from and that they are not using pesticides. And they had some different varieties of vegetables that we couldn’t find in a grocery store or local market.”
“I am interested in sustainable and green practices anyway,” said Nelly Devault, another returning shareholder. “I have two kids and find it a challenge to incorporate vegetables into our diet, and I felt like this would help force me to use the wonderful produce that we were going to get. I think it’s a great thing for the community.”
Not only were the responses from shareholders positive, but the program was so successful that CMH received a national award for the project. The 2009 Award of Excellence in Community Collaboration was presented on April 7 by the National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare in San Antonio, Texas.
“The program developed by the Center for Mental Health in Anderson is unique. This project provides comprehensive and community-based services, promoting recovery, and gives people hope for personal success,” said Linda Rosenberg, president and CEO of the National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare in a press release. “This ground-breaking project is cost-effective and could be easily replicated across many rural or urban settings.”
Shareholders pay a set fee and collect produce once a week for 22 weeks stretching from June 1 through Oct. 31.
They understand that weather conditions can affect the amount of food they glean, but both Titus and Devault said they had an abundance of food despite the cold spring of last year.
The garden is tilled by clients of CMH and interns from Anderson University.
“In mental health there is a growing movement to use horticulture as part of therapy,” added David Robb, CMH staff member and garden manager. “In Europe it’s been going on a lot of years. In the United States there are a few centers and even some small farms that do this now. The Center for Mental Health is very proactive in innovation and this is one of the things we are hoping to move more into. I call it farming with a social mission. Not only does it provide food for the community that is locally grown, but it also provides employment for some of our clients and involves them in growing things.”
Not only are the clients benefiting, but the relationship between CMH and Anderson University is providing more opportunities for students. Both years interns received housing in exchange for their work with the center and in the garden. This summer a new course will be taught by Robb at AU called “Exploring Sustainable Agriculture.”
“There are a number of universities across the country that are starting to offer programs and certifications in organic agriculture,” said Barbara Scott, chief operating officer of CMH. “It’s exciting to think that AU is offering this type of course.”
But AU is not the only organization working with CMH to make the garden successful. The City of Anderson was a primary partner, allowing the Parks Department and the Compost/Mulch Department to provide land and soil amendments at Shepard Park on Rangeline Road. Local businesses, such as TSC, Lowes, and Follmar Irrigation, also chipped in donations or discounts totaling $18,000.
The Community Supported Agriculture farm sold 50 shares last year and hopes to double that amount this year. As an additional service, an online store will be available to order other local farm items, such as pastured poultry, eggs, beef, lamb, pork, honey, maple syrup and cheese to be picked up with the weekly produce.
“I thought the staff was a fun group to visit with and made gathering up the weekly vegetables fun,” added Titus. “We felt good that we supported this new idea and want it to grow.”