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MLK Day of Service produces new community garden
100 volunteers attend Hands On Newtons third annual event
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Porterdale has a new community garden thanks to more than 100 volunteers who attended Hands On Newton’s third annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service celebration Monday.

Volunteers came from Atlanta, Conyers, Newton County, local elementary and high schools, Oxford College, Newton Master Gardeners, the Newton County Extension Office and the Washington Street Community Center.

They helped to build some of the bedding frames for the new garden in Porterdale, and to till the existing gardens at the Community Food Pantry and the Senior Citizens Service Center at the Turner Lake Complex and prepare them for spring planting.

The community garden in Porterdale, located directly behind city hall, is part of a nationwide movement to promote more local, organic produce.

“You can’t beat fresh produce, and this will give people a place to get that,” said Ten Wynne, the county’s extension coordinator. “Organic gardening is definitely increasing. People want to know what’s in the produce they eat. This is a fantastic community service.”

Hands On Newton Program Director Mollie Melvin said community gardens have been a popular volunteer project because they provide a cost effective way to fight hunger and promote healthy communities. The gardens two Covington gardens are maintained by volunteers throughout the year and in 2009 produced more than 250 pounds of produce that was donated to the Rainbow Covenant Ministries' homeless shelter and the senior citizen’s center.

The Porterdale garden was expected to have around 45 beds of varying sizes that residents will be able to rent and maintain for their own use. The boards for the bedding frames were donated by Nyloboard, a green building products maker in Covington. The boards are actually made from recycled carpet, and Wynne said that makes them more durable and better for outdoor use.

“They’re not going to weather or degrade. Regular lumber would probably have to be replaced in three to four years. But the Nyloboard could last 15 years or more. It resist termites and insects and mold and mildew,” Wynne said.

Laura Bertram, executive director at Newton County Community Partnership, said the involved groups are hoping to raise money to offer scholarships to help residents pay for rent and the cost of plants. She said expanding and maintaining the garden will be an ongoing project.

Bertram said the Oxford College students were inspired to help after visiting a church for the homeless in Atlanta on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The congregation donated $150 to send to Haiti, despite having so little themselves.

“What the kids started today, they hope will inspire others to pay it forward, like they were inspired. Martin Luther King Jr. Day is not just about one day of service, but a lifetime of service,” Bertram said.

Hebron World Church Pastor Charles Wallace began the day of service at 9 a.m. with a brief message. After working during the morning hours, many of the volunteers then met for lunch at Porterdale’s Party on Main facility, located in the alley. Bertram said store owner Monty Hill, who also helped with the garden, allowed Hands On Newton to use the space for free. Blimpie provided lunch at a discounted rate.

Washington Street Executive Director Bea Jackson and 15 members of her center’s youth group, the Young Legends, were among those tilling the existing Covington gardens.

“The kids were shoveling, raking, hoeing, getting the earth prepared for planting. This was a great opportunity, on such an important day, for young people willing to come out and work with other students. They showed a caring spirit,” Jackson said.

Dr. Melvin Baker, local dentist and winner of this year’s I Have A Dream Award, was also out working alongside the students. Jackson said Baker agreed to come out and help even before he knew he had won the award, because he has a love of young people.

A group of young girl scouts from the local schools pitched in by painting the bedding frames to make them look like wood. Amy Carter from Conyers added her three children to lend a helping hand as well. Carter, heard about the project through the Give a Day of Service, Get a Day at Disney program, in which Disney donates a free one-day theme park ticket to one million volunteers who participate in volunteer service projects in 2010.

Four of the garden frames were constructed and placed in Porterdale on Wednesday, with more to go up over the following weeks. The Master Gardeners group is also considering locating a farmers market near the Porterdale garden to give Newton County residents an outlet to sell their produce.