Community garden expansion: taking a collaborative approach

The Koinonia Community Garden is thriving.

In 2020, Wholespire Richland County, formerly Eat Smart Move More Richland County, collaborated with Koinonia of Columbia and the SC Department of Health and Environmental Control (SCDHEC) to support a local community garden. The community garden was funded by SCDHEC and demonstrated the idea of community and unity by taking a collaborative approach to fulfill the mission that Koinonia of Columbia, an asset-based community development non-profit in the Eau Claire community, had proposed.

The Midlands Community Systems Team at SCDHEC worked with the Central Midlands Council of Governments to provide grant funding to Wholespire Richland County for healthy eating initiatives. Funds supported the Koinonia’s expansion of 8 garden beds to twelve beds, along with supplies for building, gardening, and education.

Tecoria Jones, program manager at Koinonia, is responsible for gardening maintenance and educational programming. She says they intend to continue providing hands-on learning through gardening as part of their afterschool curriculum. “Koinonia is so appreciative to have been a recipient of the Wholespire Richland County funding. We are thankful for the growth in the children and in the community this opportunity has presented.”

It Takes a Village

Children from the Eau Claire Community learn how to plant a garden.

A few years ago, the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary (LTSS) of Lenoir-Rhyne University began its partnership with the Koinonia to install the first raised beds. Since then, neighboring families, LTSS staff, and volunteers have grown vegetables in the gardens and sold the produce as a fundraiser for Transitions Homeless Center in Columbia. Students of an LTSS ethics class joined in on the collaboration after learning about asset-based community development from Koinonia staff and board members. They also learned gardening through a hands-on harvesting event with children. Ethics students also have participated in Koinonia’s mentoring and afterschool programming.

“As a Christian seminary, our partnership with Koinonia demonstrates a theology that upholds a healing connection to land, food, and neighbors. When we grow good food together, we demonstrate what God’s beloved community can look like in action,” said Dr. Melanie Dobson, assistant professor. 

Dr. Dobson went on to explain the partnership allows LTSS to practice being a good neighbor, both in the sharing of land as a resource and in building relationships with local children. 

Breaking Ground and Expanding

Wheelchair-accessible garden beds.

In March 2020, Wholespire Richland County, Koinonia and LTSS broke ground on the educational garden expansion. With the approval from LTSS leadership, Koinonia was able to map out and design a layout for the future beds. The funding supported the building of two 12’x4’ beds and two 4’x4’ wheelchair-accessible beds. Wholespire Richland County members, Koinonia staff, and LTSS staff and students rolled their sleeves up to help build the proposed beds. 

On Earth Day 2021, Koinonia kids did their spring garden planting. Kids planted herbs, tomatoes, cucumbers, okra, peppers, and squash to the existing spinach, cabbage, and collard green plants.

In Summer 2021, Koinonia is hosting Freedom School, a culture-specific framework sponsored by the Children’s Defense Fund. The children of Koinonia will be seeing themselves in every book they read at Freedom School.

“We will be spotlighting and celebrating black culture. Watching and talking about how things evolve will be an essential conversation,” explained Jones.

The garden will also provide learning opportunities like agriculture, water cycle, ecosystems, and entrepreneurship.

Finishing Touches

Select Health of South Carolina donated a bench for the garden.

Select Health of South Carolina (SHSC), the oldest and largest Medicaid Care organization in South Carolina for over 26 years, got on board and donated a garden bench to support the continuity of community’s mission for sustainable, healthy communities. 

“It was our deepest pleasure to support Wholespire Richland County on the 2021 project at Koinonia’s Community Garden, which hosted the Spring Garden Planting on Earth Day,” said Addie Bors, SHSC director of community education and outreach. 

Impact of Community Gardens

One of the several tomato plants for the garden.

Community gardens bring positive activity to neighborhoods. They provide a source of fresh, affordable and local produce. Some produce is donated to the community and used in educational and nutritional cooking programs. This garden is an excellent learning tool in Koinonia’s afterschool program. The gardens will provide access to nature, healthy food, green infrastructure, and ecological restoration for the community. 

“We are thankful for all of our coalition members and community partners. It is our hope that these children will start having a natural love of gardening. We would love to see their enthusiasm spill over into other school subjects that are related to the garden, like science, art and math,” said TQ Davis, Wholespire Richland County chair.

If you are interested in learning more or joining Wholespire Richland County, please visit our website.

Koinonia of Columbia is a asset-based community development non-profit in the Eau Claire community. Founded by Kelly and David Strum, Koinonia of Columbia sees the power of nature as equally important in the growth and development of children and the village around them. They aim to provide a fruitful and robust nation of good citizens, and they believe children are key to the future.