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Manteo Rotary Club takes on community garden, welcomes new participants

A brightly prolific garden can be found tucked back in Manteo on Dare County Airport property. Through an agreement to use the land, the Roanoke Island Community Garden had been started by the eight years ago to help feed families in need. The Mano al Hermano non-profit organized the program.

Participation had dwindled over the years and a lease renewal was set for August of 2020. That’s when the Manteo Rotary Club decided to step in.

Skip Morgan, club co-chair and a long-time supporter and participant in the garden, walked through the crop-lined walkways of the garden with The Coastland Times to discuss its future.

“The project was started with the help of Robert Perry,” Morgan said, “a master gardener.” Morgan shared that he and his wife had been volunteers since the beginning, when Perry had laid out the plans for the plots and got the ball rolling with Mano al Hermano.

During the spring of 2020, Morgan said Mano al Hermano had notified the garden manager that they were not interested in “supporting the effort” any longer. The garden had not been meeting the original mission it had been made for, so Manteo Rotary Club decided to take on the lease and run it as a community outreach project.

“What we want to do is solicit more diversity in garden,” Morgan started, “We want to get more participants because we have a number of empty plots. We have a lot of room to grow.”

The garden had a bountiful harvest this past season just with the participants that have been actively caring for their own plots and crops. Certain plots are known as “community plots,” which all members maintain. “Everyone pitches in and helps,” said Morgan. Fruits like strawberries, raspberries and melons were shared among the group, as well as sweet corn and asparagus.

“We had so much asparagus, my wife and I ate it at least twice a week,” Morgan chuckled.

The idea, according to Morgan, is that the crops grown within the garden are not sold, but used by the gardeners, given to friends or donated to local food banks. “We highly encourage the support of local food banks,” he said.

Bob Noffsinger with the Roanoke Island Food Pantry said they receive fruit and vegetables quite often from the garden. “It comes in small batches quite frequently, so we always have some when people come,” said Noffsinger. “We’ve received some beautiful eggplant, lettuce, tomato . . . a whole range of things from the garden.”

Noffsinger told The Coastland Times that the food they receive from the community garden is a “very nice addition” to the canned goods that are given to guests of the food pantry. “It adds a nice nutritional boost,” he added.

New gardeners are welcomed to reach out to Manteo Rotary Club and fill out an application to join. On November 7, the garden welcomed its newest member, Luke Stevens, while Rotarians and gardeners met at the garden to partake in a service project work day.

Morgan said everyone came together to “relocate composting straw, perform dollar weed remediation, install new grapevine posts and construct a three-bin composting station.” Repairs were also made to the garden’s shed door and the cable station that sat within the new welcome area was eliminated.

The Roanoke Island Community Garden spans approximately 1.15 acres and is owned by the Dare County Airport Authority, which has set forth rules that apply to the parcels use. Such rules are incorporated into the lease as well as the application to become an active participant in the garden.

Although stringent, the rules are enacted for the safety and well-being of the property. Given its location as a crash zone, no structures are permitted to be built on-site, aside from the small shed that houses tools to care for and maintain the property.

“They don’t want any chemical fertilizer used,” added Morgan. “They want only organic growth out here.” Other rules include no planting of trees, besides smaller fruit trees that can be pruned back, and overall height requirements that must be met.

The gardeners have implemented a recycling system as well as a recycling area on-site. “We try to give back to the earth what we can,” Morgan commented. Old fishing nets are used to keep birds from snatching the crops, but pollinators can be found on almost every flower bed that lies within the abundant grounds of the gardens.

“About thirty days ago, this was just awash in color,” Morgan said. The harvest was bountiful and the vibrant garden has once again begun to flourish.

For those interested in learning more about the garden or looking to participate, reach out to Manteo Rotary Club by calling 252-216-6808 or emailing manteorotary@gmail.com.

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