Tucked away behind the quaint white Episcopal Church on Mount Olive Street, the Community Garden in Siloam Springs keeps its gate open wide for members all around the city. With 15 raised beds, the garden provides fresh produce at no cost for anyone who is in need.
“The goal of the garden is to feed the community, because there is a lot of people who don’t have enough food for their kids or food for themselves,” Tucker Gambill, a board member of the Community Garden, said.
Gambill, a junior Political Science major at John Brown University, has been a board member of the Community Garden for two years now. Through his position, Gambill has been able to help volunteer in the garden and raise money to increase the garden’s reach in the city.
Patty Arnett, the founder of the Community Garden and Gambill’s mother, started the garden 4 years ago with the goal of feeding the community. She got the inspiration from her sister who started a community garden in a rough school district in Tulsa.
“About 12 years ago my sister, Cindy Hemm, was a principal of a school in Tulsa and someone came to her and asked if they could put in a garden and she thought that was a great idea,” Arnett said. “Before they put the garden in, the students had the lowest test scores. . .after a year of the garden being there, the kids had the highest test scores.”
Similar to the Community Garden in Tulsa, the little garden in Arkansas has had a valuable impact on the residents of Siloam Springs. Gambill said that they are able to feed people in need, but they also have the ability to encourage the consumption of fresh foods. Often, the cheapest foods in Walmart are not extremely healthy; therefore, the Community Garden works to provide a healthy option for those who are in need.
This year alone, Gambill said that the Community Garden yielded approximately 74 pounds of food. Community members “can go to the garden and learn how to go back home and prepare the food. During the summer we even have community workshops where people can learn how to can their own jam,” Gambill said.
“People use it for different things,” Arnett said. “A homeschool mom takes her kids out to the garden and they use it for science and math by looking at the growth and how many seeds there are. I’ll also see other parents bring their kids out to water and they are teaching them about service projects.”
Although the garden works to alleviate financial pressure and feed the community, Arnett said that the overarching goal of the garden is to get the community as a whole involved.
This year the garden had about 1,500 Siloam Springs high school and middle school students visit, and some of the students even visited three times or more.
“We have a lot of workshops with the students so they can earn about sustainable growing and things like that. We’re hoping to put in an outdoor classroom as well with the funding,” Gambill said.
The Little Free Pantry, an outlet for the community to come and get immediate goods, is also located just outside of the garden. Together with the community garden, the organizations work to relieve the needs of the those who do not have access to food. On the fence, the pantry is usually filled with canned goods, diapers and other useful items. “The community comes and fills it up,” Gambill said. “I’ll tell you, we fill it up, and then like 15 minutes later it’s half empty again. It’s in high demand.”
The garden on Mount Olive is their primary location, but the Community Garden has also expanded its reach by building another garden across town by the Manna Center. “By the manna center we have two apple trees; we have a lot of lettuce, banana peppers, and tomatoes,” Gambill said. “The boys and girls club has agreed to maintain and water the garden. Fundraisers we have go towards projects like this.”
Another project that the Community Garden is looking into is putting a garden on the main campus of JBU. Arnett has met with Steve Beers several times and is in the process of writing a proposal for the project.
“We need to iron out the details, but it looks like JBU is open to having a garden on campus. It may look like something different than what the gardens are right now. It may be raised beds, but it may also be a more farm-like structure where we farm one crop at JBU,” Arnett said.
With many projects in the works, the garden is reaching out to sponsors and the community to sustain the non-profit. Gambill said the most recent fundraiser raised around 8 thousand dollars, which is 3 thousand more than they raised the previous year. “I believe we had 75 or 85 people come to the event. We raised the money through other’s participation in the silent auctions and live auction and tickets,” Gambill said.
“The Community Garden is for everyone. It’s not just a garden for the poor, it’s a garden for the whole community,” Arnett said.