By Holly Hollman
For The News Courier
Since July, volunteers have been playing in the dirt so to speak to turn the Farmers Market into a place that better supports local farmers and provides an asset for the community.
They’ve devoted more than 700 hours to the project.
In July, Keep Athens-Limestone Beautiful with the assistance of the city of Athens, Spirit of Athens and Limestone County Commission received the only $20,000 Lowe’s/Keep America Beautiful grant in the state. That led to a Farmers Market Renovation Committee working with the city and county to paint the pavilion, add sidewalks and improve parking.
Boy Scout Troop 240 and Doug Doerr, who worked on the project toward his Eagle Scout badge, the Lowe’s Heroes from the local Lowe’s store, and other volunteers have since put in 731 volunteer hours and donated nearly $10,000 in materials and professional services. These volunteers have added a gazebo, a shed for supplies, landscaping and container and organic community gardens.
“KALB is so excited to be part of this very worthwhile project, which will serve our community in numerous ways,” said KALB Executive Coordinator Lynne Hart. “Winning the only $20,000 Lowe's Grant awarded in the state of Alabama is a highlight for our organization this year.”
A garden coordinator will work with nonprofit groups, school groups and others to schedule volunteer hours to plant, maintain and harvest the gardens. Food collected will be donated to the food bank at Limestone County Churches Involved.
“The improvements made and those to come will definitely enhance an area of our city that had not been attractive,” Hart said. “The free educational programs to be offered beginning in the spring will enhance the Saturday Markets as well as provide opportunities to our school children. We are especially happy to play a part in getting fresh, healthy food to those in our community who need it most.”
The committee is inviting the community to a ribbon-cutting on Saturday, Dec. 7, from 2 to 3 p.m., to celebrate the near completion of the project. The volunteers will be on hand to explain each aspect of the project including how citizens can make their own container and organic gardens. Citizens can tour the area during this time. The ribbon-cutting ceremony will be at 2:30.
Santa will be in the gazebo meeting children and handing out hot chocolate and candy canes. He also will be collecting canned and dry goods for the Limestone County Churches Involved food bank. Sparky will also be in attendance with the Athens-Limestone Recycling Center to help highlight educational programs planned at the market.
The renovations will enable groups like KALB, Athens Saturday Market Committee, Spirit of Athens and others to hold educational programs related to soil conservation, gardening tips, reuse of items and recycling for gardening, rain water collection and more.
Informational signs will be installed at a later date to describe the difference between the container gardens. Volunteers have built keyhole beds, hugelkultur gardens and flower gardens from concrete culverts.
A keyhole bed is circular with a path to the inner middle, which gives it a keyhole look. The garden will contain a raised mound of compost that will continually leach into and feed the plants.
A hugelkultur garden is a raised garden filled with rotting wood, leaf mulch and manure and topped with soil. This design provides plant roots with organic material, nutrients and air pockets. The city donated old culverts that will be turned upright, filled with soil and planted with flowers. The committee plans to work with local school groups to paint garden themes on the outside of the culverts.
Spirit of Athens Director Trisha Black said the benefits of the renovation are tri-fold for the community.
“By expanding the green space, landscaping and adding the gazebo, it creates an inviting gathering space that is now more accessible to Coleman Hill,” Black said, referring to a nearby neighborhood. Some of its elderly residents walk to the market.
“Secondly, it educates the community on gardening techniques that teach us how to grow ‘clean’ produce. And lastly, the gardens will provide nutrition-packed produce to those in need through the LCCI program.”
Mayor Ronnie Marks thanked Lowe’s and Keep America Beautiful for choosing this project for funding, and the numerous volunteers who worked weekdays and weekends to bring this to fruition.
“I am impressed with the community response on this project and the possibilities it provides for educational and entertaining events at our Farmers Market,” Marks said. “The more excitement we have at our market the more support we’ll be able to provide our local farmers, and the more people we will draw to our downtown area.”