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HILLSVILLE — Despite the withering summer heat, participation in the community garden in Hillsville continues to blossom.
In the second year for the Gardens Growing Families effort at Childs' Farms off Cross Creek Road, some people arrive around the crack of dawn, before direct sunlight heats up the 2.5 acres of produce.
Others wait until late evening to tend their corn, tomatoes, many varieties of beans, watermelon, potatoes, cantaloupe, cucumbers and more, says the Rev. Lawrence Childs of Hillsville First Baptist Church.
Organizers set up picnic tables next to the creek, under the shade provided by the branches of a large black walnut tree — available any time the sun might be too intense.
Children can climb or cool off in the creek as their parents rest a while.
In fact, rather than stay in houses without air conditioning, families may continue to hang out as the day cools down and have a picnic, Childs said. Some people just wanted the experience of growing a garden with their kids.
This means that the Gardens Growing Families efforts has been successful in its two main goals — putting food on peoples' tables and providing time for togetherness for the families involved, he noted.
"It's become a real family time," he said. "It's good for kids to be involved in this and see where their food comes from and how it grows."
In all, Childs estimates that the gardens — some grown by families for themselves and some grown by volunteers for others — has helped feed 125 people.
That makes it a bountiful growing year.
The most trouble that's arisen this year comes from crows pulling up the corn, he said. Plants have been spared damage by bugs and even deer this year.
The fertile soil that has built up in deep layers from the flooding of the creek over many years kept the plants from drying out, Childs said. Besides, this garden spot has received more rain than other parts of the county.
Organizers have stretched out the drip irrigation tubing and set up the pump in the creek. "We haven't had to use it much — if you get one rain a week, you'll be okay," he said.
One elderly woman who had tried gardening in her own yard, but only got a rock patch, has dug up huge potatoes from her community plot.
One variety of corn has grown 10 feet tall, one watermelon plant grew six fruits, and there are bumper crops of beans to give away.
Growers haven't used many chemicals on their gardens, either, he said, even though a bit of the blight has hung on this year.
"We try to use integrated pest management... keep a check on what's there and pull off what you can," Childs said.
Butterflies flutter all around the crops and the surrounding fields of clover. A couple hummingbirds even landed on tomato cages and checked out the corn tassels closely before flying on.
Before the recession, these fields grew flowers.
"In this economic climate, flowers are not necessities," Childs said. "They're in the luxury category, I guess."
A lot of good has come out of this effort, reaching more than 125 participants through supplying other food programs.
Organizers have planned on open house for the community garden for Aug. 9 to celebrate the successful growing season.
This will be a chance for the participants to meet over slices of watermelon from the garden.
"I think a lot of people have benefitted from this — a lot more than the 125 people who are growing their own," Childs said.