The Dunbar Community Garden Project – Prepare to be Inspired!

We always visit at least one of our Seed Keeper Project recipients while traveling on SeedKeeperPalooza trips.  This year we visited The Dunbar Community Garden Project in Little Rock, Arkansas.  We were cheerfully greeted at the gate by Dondi Nelson who first came upon it when she was asked to assist her child’s kindergarten teacher in the garden, over 5 years ago.  She said, “they opened the gates, we walked in and I felt the magic.”  We know how she feels!!  Dondi has volunteered ever since and is now President of the Dunbar Community Garden Project.  Damian Thompson is the hands-on director of the Garden who clearly has a way of inspiring kids to learn about the many things they’re growing.  Two schools and many other groups come through here to learn about sustainability through the cycle of growing food and caring for the animals that live there.  We love the messaging for this garden!

While we were there, a group of about thirty 5th grade kids came for their weekly visit.  The kids sat in a semi-circle and they’re excitement was palpable!  All were eager to learn the Garden’s riches and to find out what they may get to harvest from the Garden that day.  Each child spoke about the importance of growing your own food and the nutritional value realized from doing so. Our hearts sang…They get it! You could tell this was the highlight of their day…ours too.

The Dunbar Community Garden is not set up with raised beds and neat isles. No, this is more of a micro farm, with a twist.  There’s a big greenhouse, a hoop house, the State’s first windmill that still provides enough power to support the Garden and give back to the grid!  They have homemade vermiculture bins complete with a “Worm Rocket”.  Confession time, we totally loved this thing! Worms go in at the top, Rocket turns like a cement mixer allowing castings to fall through the screen. Worms come out other end in a ball and drop into a bucket and the kids return them to the vermiculture bin and castings are collected for compost.  How much fun is that?

Have you ever eaten a Rat Tail Radish? Delish!  These radishes grow in a mound and have little white flowers.  The radishes look more like green beans and taste amazing; succulent and light with that little radish “bite” at the end.  Here’s the best part, three crops produce from one plant through the season! We’re growing them in our backyards right now.  Did you know that when you bite into a chocolate mint leaf and a stevia leaf together, they taste like an Altoid?  Yes, we are growing those now too.

The Dunbar Community Garden Project was started over 20 years ago.  In fact, P. Allen Smith was instrumental in the development of the Garden when it was in its infancy.  Gerry Bruno, P. Allen Smith’s Executive Producer, and his crew filmed our visit and we know they had as much fun as we did!  The Garden is supported by the State of Arkansas and  Americorp among others.  A big part of those “others” is the community.  For example, when these hops grow to the top of the trellis and flower (pictured below), they are then purchased by a local brewery who make beer with them.  Local restaurants buy fresh produce from the Garden and are proud to let their patrons know where it comes from.  Folks line up early in the morning to purchase fresh eggs and other fresh goodies from the garden.  Imagine sitting at that desk with a good book and hops growing to the top of the trellis all around you.

The magic that comes from this garden is real.  You can feel it with everything that grows around you wherever you turn, you can see it in those big smiles when something tastes good and scrunched up noses when it doesn’t and you can hear it in their silence when children learn how their food emerges from a tiny seed, an egg or an animal.

The Dunbar Garden Project is a result of passionate people who want to make a difference…and they are doing it.  We applaud you!!

See you in the garden,

Carol and Kerrie