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Community greens

Suffolk is getting greener one garden at a time.

As part of an effort that began last year, volunteers recently tilled the ground and planted the first of what they hope will be a plentiful 2010 crop in community gardens around the city.

“We just planted over 100 plants,” said Carol Warren, a volunteer who helps with the garden at Holland Baptist Church. “We put a lot in there. It’s just amazing. And once this grows out, we’ll re-plant it again with other crops and just keep growing.”

The Holland Baptist garden is one of four in the city, which are the efforts of individuals and the Suffolk Partnership for a Healthy Community. Other gardens are at Kilby Shores, which is new this year, East Suffolk Community Center and Chorey Park.

While spring just recently fully overcame the cold winter, eight volunteers with the Holland garden have already clocked 20 hours of gardening.

“Because the ground was already established, it was a lot easier than last year,” Warren said. “This year, we just went in, tilled it up and planted the first of our produce — broccoli, salad lettuces and cabbage.”

In the first part of May, Warren said, she expects to begin planting the garden’s “back 40” — the 40-foot plot behind the church.

“We’ll have cucumbers, tomatoes, squash and bell peppers,” Warren said.

Last year, the original three gardens at Holland, the community center and Chorey Park raised nearly 2,000 pounds of vegetables, which were donated to different Suffolk ministries and organizations.

The idea began with Kay Cherry when she was out to dinner one night with her husband.

“I looked around and thought about the economy going south and thought, ‘What can we do?’” Cherry said. “There are three basic things people need: shelter, utilities and food. The first two we can’t do much about on a big scale, but food we can do.”

Through the help several businesses, grants, organizations, graduate students at Eastern Virginia Medical School and individuals, the gardens have provided community members with all the health benefits of fresh vegetables.

“It has been such a community-wide effort — that has even extended beyond the Suffolk community,” Cherry said. “People see the need and do what it takes to take care of a community.”

The gardens are also a springboard to teach community members about healthy nutrition, exercise and practical skills.

“We’re doing a canning class, and Chorey Park is putting together a recipe book with stories about their experiences and recipes on how to use the fresh vegetables,” Cherry said.”

There are hopes that there will be as many as 40 gardens in the community when all is said and done.

“Each garden just has its own personality,” Cherry said. “They each are able to meet a particular need in the community, and we hope to see that spread.”

“It’s been a real labor of love,” Cherry said. “It’s truly a labor, but it’s all of love.