04gardenI often write about the challenges facing American society. Those challenges include poverty, a widening racial divide, crime, political disarray, governmental financial madness … the list goes on. What follows are my thoughts regarding a valuable, but much under-utilized, asset. I firmly believe this asset can contribute a lot toward positively addressing many of the adverse conditions that weigh heavily on our city and even our nation. That asset is the Fayetteville Community Garden. My describing a garden as a valuable asset might shock some readers. I encourage you to continue reading.

The garden is located at the corner of Mann and Vanstory streets in Fayetteville. It consists of 94 plots that are available for rent on an annual basis for $25. This amount includes water access at no additional charge. The garden was the brainchild of Candace Williams, who was involved with community gardens elsewhere. With the support of the Sandhills Area Land Trust, where she was employed, Candace led the effort that brought the garden into existence.

I have written before about how the garden is a place where people can get to know one another … where community can be built. Doing so contributes to creating an atmosphere where issues that divide us can be more productively addressed. Beyond building community, I contend that the gardening experience can help prepare individuals for successful living. My experience says that state of mind — attitude — is a key factor that determines how one’s life unfolds.

Dr. Ben Carson, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, made this point in a recent interview. Regarding Carson’s comment, Pam Fessler wrote the following in an article titled “Housing Secretary Ben Carson Says Poverty Is a ‘State Of Mind:’”

“On Wednesday night, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson — whose budget to help low-income households would be cut by more than $6 billion next year — added his own thoughts. He said in a radio interview that ‘poverty to a large extent is also a state of mind.’ Carson — who himself grew up in poverty to become a widely acclaimed neurosurgeon — said people with the “right mindset” can have everything taken away from them, and they’ll pull themselves up. He believes the converse is true as well. ‘You take somebody with the wrong mindset, you can give them everything in the world (and) they’ll work their way right back down to the bottom,’ Carson said.”

After reporting what Carson said, Fessler goes on to quote several individuals who disagree with his assertion regarding state of mind and poverty. Beyond those referenced in the article, I heard a chorus of people who strongly disagreed with Carson. Interestingly, there is a video on YouTube that shows Morgan Freeman, the renowned actor, making a similar statement. I have heard no opposition to Freeman’s statement. That’s a topic for another time. Please go to www.youtube.com/watch?v=YHNo7SxrOFQ and view the statements by Carson and Freeman. I agree with Carson and Freeman: Mindset is a critical key to successful living.

As farfetched as it might seem, my research and experience indicate a properly planned and executed program in the community garden could contribute remarkably to developing an achievement-oriented mindset in participants. This would definitely be true of our youth. Among the components of this achievement-oriented mindset would be: seeing oneself as a person of value; appreciation for work; respect for others; attention to the need to care for others and for surroundings; a burning desire for education; goal-setting and pursuit of those goals; and ability and willingness to interact with others.

During my years of volunteering with a local nonprofit organization, I’ve had the opportunity to see boys as young as eight years old work in the community garden alongside older boys. I would work with them as a group. We grew vegetables in three plots and helped maintain the walkways and open areas.

In the beginning of this effort, I spent a good bit of time just trying to keep the boys in the same area. It seemed no work would happen. Over time, that changed as they realized their work would produce vegetables that they could take home. We also had a means by which the boys who were faithful in attendance and worked hard could earn a cash award annually. Adults who had plots in the garden would stop to talk with the boys and often thank them for their work in the open areas. Those caring adults also shared words of encouragement and engaged in general conversation with the boys.

Those boys also did tasks that allowed them to put into practice some of what they are exposed to in the education process. For instance, they were involved in laying out rows for planting. That required measuring and then using division to determine the appropriate distance between rows and between plants.

It was years ago that I last gardened with that group, but several memories are still with me. There was one particular day when it started raining and we took shelter in one of the two sheds. The boys and I sat on buckets in a semi-circle. I offered to discuss any topics they wanted to address. The conversation started, and we covered several topics of interest to them. In the end, it was about making wise choices, setting goals, believing in self and not taking on a victim mentality. Not because of me, but because of what those boys brought to the table, it was about mindset.

That is a good memory. Another time nearly brought me to tears. Even now, remembering the incident saddens me. I asked one teenaged boy to connect a water hose to the faucet. He looked at me and said he did not know how to make the connection. I showed him, and the work went on, but all these years later, that experience still haunts me.

It haunts me because I am convinced that, as a nation, we are failing to provide young people with the experiences that effectively help prepare them for successful lives. Not knowing how to connect a water hose to a faucet is probably not unusual for young people today. However, I think it says we have dangerously strayed from the basics, and people are suffering because of our straying.

The point is that we must be about helping people, especially youth, to take on the mindset required for successful living. I am convinced, beyond any doubt, that the Fayetteville Community Garden is an asset that can, and should, be used in this endeavor. How to make it happen is a question I pose for consideration by caring people in our community.

Garden Meetings

Two meetings will be held in the Fayetteville Community Garden on Saturday, Aug. 12. The first, at 9 a.m., will be for individuals who currently rent plots in the garden. We will discuss ways of continuing the process of making the garden a beautiful place where plants thrive and community-building happens. That means addressing ideas, questions and concerns.

The second meeting will start at 10 a.m. Persons not now involved, but interested in learning more about the garden, are invited to attend. Information on which plots are available for rent will be provided. If you are not interested in renting a plot but want to consider volunteering or otherwise supporting efforts in the garden, please attend this meeting.

Attendees at both meetings should bring a lawn chair. The garden is located at the corner of Mann and Vanstory Streets, across from the church at 405 Vanstory Street. If weather on the evening of Aug. 11 calls for a 40 percent or greater chance of rain on the 12th, these meetings will be held on Aug. 19.

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