Bringing green back to Suffolk

Published 9:27 pm Monday, February 9, 2015

There was a time, not all that long ago, when a garden in Suffolk wouldn’t have been a big deal. Only during the past 20 years or so has the city begun to grow into the suburban oasis that it is today. And the industrial and commercial centers of North Suffolk, as well as the retail sprawl of North Main Street, are of even more recent vintage.

But as the city has grown — it’s now one of the 15 fastest growing municipalities in Virginia — the farmland of the past has given way to shopping centers, industrial parks and neighborhoods. During the same period, Suffolk has slowly begun to experience a problem that very well could have something to do with the urbanization of land that was once used to grow crops: Health problems like diabetes are on the rise.

The Suffolk Partnership for a Healthy Community has been working hard to combat the city’s growing health problems, and a creative program to put small parcels of land back to work growing crops of vegetables and fruits has been a big part of the strategy.

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The community gardens initiative began in 2009 with only four gardens. It now includes eight community gardens and eight school gardens, as well as some preschool gardens.

The program encourages neighborhoods to come together for the purpose of planting and nurturing garden plots that yield healthy foods, which are then shared around the community. They help teach children — and even some adults — where their food comes from. And they help improve the eating habits of those who receive the fruits of all that labor.

The partnership is holding a contest to select about 17 to 20 people to win starter garden kits, as well as technical assistance and support to give the projects good roots. The winning gardeners will receive assistance in building, planning and planting their gardens. Each person can choose a raised box garden, a container garden or an in-ground garden.

The gardeners must agree to maintain the garden at least seven months each year for the next two calendar years and agree to garden by partnership rules, which include growing organically.

Garden applications are due Feb. 28. For more information or to get a garden application, call 539-1525 or visit

Suffolk may never again be the great agricultural center it was during the 20th century, but the community gardens program will help it once again be a place where people grow at least some of their own food, and in the process it will help improve the health of the people who live here.