On a Saturday morning in the summer of 2021, the Simple Gifts Community Garden in Apex was at the peak of life, exploding with color. Green and orange peppers grew. Orange monarchs landed on pink milkweed. Dozens of raised beds of produce grew, all fed by fresh water from a shimmering pond. Since Saturdays are scheduled community workdays, the harvest table overflowed with dozens of baskets and buckets of nutritious fruits and vegetable. A ringing farm bell invited gardeners to enjoy some of the fruits of their labor just before the crunch of gravel announced the arrival of a volunteer from one of our five foodbank partners. On that particular day, The Point, in Cary, would quickly present over one hundred pounds of produce to their clients.
By that Saturday, the garden looked like a small farm teeming with volunteers, but its humble beginnings took root 13 years before. That was when Jeanne Hack invited her church, Apex United Methodist, to consider building a community garden on her long disused field. Within 15 months, co-founders Anne Harrison and Fred D’Ignazio formed a steering committee that fleshed out a mission and vision for the garden. A variety of donors shared time, talent, goods and supplies. Hundreds of volunteers mobilized. The collective effort must have had the resident Blue Heron wondering how ten 50-foot-long raised beds, bordered by newly erected deer fence and surrounded by a parking lot, composting area, and beehives managed to grow up overnight. That heron’s eyes observed a lot of change. Over time, she saw over 25,000 pounds of donated produce go to foodbanks. What she couldn’t have realized was something far less tangible, but equally important was coming from the garden: it was sowing seeds of friendship, fellowship and mutual understanding. It allowed gardeners coming together for the cause of food insecurity to reap far more than the physical results of the seeds sown; it allowed them to gather fruits of the spirit. Together, even in these times of Covid, participants shared good news and bad. They laughed together, cried together, and wrestled with an unknown future together.
“Miss Jeanne” was a wonderful friend and host. She charged no fee for the use of her land, which allowed the suggested membership donation of $15 per family for those able to give (scholarship for those who could not) to go entirely towards the seeds and physical needs of the garden. Additional donations ultimately helped the garden grow to include over half an acre, with over 40 raised beds, 5 pollinator gardens and 1200 square feet of field for sunflowers, okra and potatoes.
Sadly, the garden lost its benefactor in the Spring of 2020. It was permitted to remain on the land for a time, but when given a December 31 deadline vacate the grounds, a new army of volunteers stepped up to do the difficult work of dismantling all elements of the garden and return it to an open field, with rows and rows of winter crops that will never see their way to foodbanks. Unfortunately, an eighteen- month search for a new “home” has not yet proved fruitful. Not at all ready to give up the trowel, Simple Gifts is in search of a new long term, or even forever home. We need land, ideally with a water source. Since the majority of current participants are from Apex or the nearby area, our search centers around the area, but is open to some change.
The garden is a success story in need of its next chapter. We need help in reaching out to our Wake County neighbors. It is our fervent hope that all of the garden components that have been removed and stored and the hundreds of plants staying with foster parents will soon require a convoy of volunteers to bring them to a new home.
Every farmer knows a seed cannot speak for itself and promise to grow tomorrow, yet the seed is sown in the great faith that with the resources, tending, and even prayer, it will grow. Sometimes, to reach maturity the growing seed must be transplanted. Today, Simple Gifts is that seed. It has been sown. It has grown. Now, it must be transplanted. Though the leadership team does not yet know where the garden will grow next, they believe that there are rainbows of colorful harvests, with everything from sunflowers to snow peas, ahead for the Simple Gifts Community Garden.