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Thursday, June 16, 2011

Community Garden: Continuing the Tradition

Everyone who knows the history of the Douglass School also knows, that, buried in the heritage of the school and the Riverview Community, is principal V.O. Dobbins Sr., growing vegetables in his food garden during the spring and summer months.

Mr. Dobbins was on a mission from the heart, and he only had a certain amount of time to work with.

Back in the 1940's and 50's, many Douglass parents could not afford to pay for hot lunches during the school day, and Mr. Dobbins felt that no child should go hungry. The fruits of his labor, were canned by his sister Leola Allen and other "mothers of the church" at Central Baptist Church, and served to the students at Douglass School during the cold, winter months. You may have noticed the Douglass principal working in the garden with a hoe, a shovel or a rake after school and in the summer, laboring long and hard in the gardens beside his home, and in the garden behind his Dunbar Street home.

Long after Douglass closed, the retired principal continued toiling in the garden, and with the canned vegetables, many families in the neighborhood continued to receive home-grown food from Mr. Dobbins' garden.

You now have the opportunity to continue that wonderful tradition at the United Way garden plots on Charlemont Streeet.

"We would like to invite the Riverview Community to take two or three of our plots," says Jill Salyers, director of Community Assessment and Planning with the United Way of Greater Kingsport. "It's a community garden, and given the history of food growing in Riverview, we'd like to see something like Mr. Dobbins' efforts started back up once again, with a renewed emphasis on feeding the community."

The United Way garden currently has 24 raised beds, with the goal to feed the hungry. The name of the annual project is "Harvest of Hope--Growing with Kingsport."

"We want to educate folks about growing," says Ms. Salyers. "We have beds being occupied by the Interfaith Hospitality Network, the Salvation Army, the Haven of Hope, and then we have several neighbors operating individual beds. Some of them are homeless, and our goal is to make sure they have nutritious foods and that they know how to prepare it. A portion of all of the gardens go to feed the homeless, as well as the person or organization who works their garden.

The United Way supplies the plants, seeds, watering, and protection for the beds (Mr. Dobbins used to say, the rabbits and birds used to have a field day in his garden). The only investment asked of people working the Charlemont garden plots, is the desire to get their hands dirty.

"People can bring their own plants if they want, and also bring a hat and gloves and also their time," Ms. Salyers says. "We have volunteers there who water the gardens and watch them. We want people to come garden with us. We've had a couple of groups of neighborhood children whose program directors heard about the garden, and wanted the children to have the chance to learn about planting a garden."

"But for folks in Riverview who already know how," she says, "we can provide experts who can take their home-growing skills to another level."

Ms. Salyers says, she hopes the program can expand in the future, and build on the legacy of V.O. Dobbins growing to feed the hungry children at the Douglass School.

"The key word here Calvin, is LEGACY," she says. "It is such a wonderful legacy for the Riverview community to one day in the future, have a garden somewhere in the Riverview Community, to learn about Mr. Dobbins original garden, to visit it, learn more about why it was there, and more about who it helped. We're also looking at having canning classes in the future, some of the same ideas that Riverview residents are familiar with, already."

"We want to make sure people who need food, have it. Not only will their bellies be full, but their heads will also be full of knowledge of how to grow it, prepare it, and also store it for the future."

"Mr. Dobbins' original idea for the Riverview community was borne out of necessity," she says. "That same idea is now necessary to help future generations with ways to enjoy home-grown foods."

For more information on how to get a free plot in the United Way garden on Charlemont Street, contact Jill Salyers at the United Way of Greater Kingsport. Her number is 378-3409, extension 16.

If you yourself have ever grown any food in Riverview, or remember the heroic efforts of Mr. Dobbins to feed our future leaders at the Douglass School, here's a way to do it again for free, with some expert help.