by Jack West, intern for The Elba Clipper
Behind the old jail and its rusted-out cells, new life sprouts every year in Elba. The community’s Giving Garden is a plot of land where volunteers can help grow cucumbers, tomatoes, bell peppers, and other produce; all of which is then donated to the Elba Community Food Bank. The garden was started and is managed by Restoration 154 Inc., a non-profit group in Elba. “We are in charge of getting the food harvested two or three times a week,” said Chelsea Cooper, an Elba resident who works at State Farm. Within Restoration154, Cooper does most of the management work for the garden. “Right now, I am just coordinating people to harvest and plant,” she said. “We get together the week we do planting and kind of map out how we want to do it.” Once the produce is harvested, it is brought to the Elba Church of Christ where the Elba Community Food Bank gives it away weekly. Tommy Grimes, a volunteer at the food bank, said the relationship between the Giving Garden and the Food Bank has been beneficial for everyone involved. “It was just a natural thing that the two of us would come together,” he said. “Nutrition-wise, it is probably 20 percent of what we give out.” According to Cooper, that 20 percent is very important because Elba is on a “food desert.” “With food stamps or the Women, Infants, and Children program, you get $15 worth of fresh vegetables per voucher, and that’s really not enough,” Cooper said. “Usually, you’re going to get a lot of just processed food.” Outside of its direct material benefit, Cooper also said there is a connection between agriculture and the people of Elba. “There is something about this area, the people have always had ties to farming, and they really like to the see the new generation getting involved in that because they don’t see that a lot,” Cooper said. “When you’ve got people our age asking: ‘Hey, can you sponsor a bed?’ it is exciting to them.” For that reason, even though the garden is one of Restoration 154’s cheapest projects, it is the one that people are most willing to fund. However, the project’s biggest problem is a lack of volunteers to help with the planting and harvesting. “We are going to have to get more volunteers,” Cooper said. “It has reached my capacity as far as how much I can do. You see the same people volunteering and it stretches us thin. So, our volunteer base needs to grow before we can grow.” Whitt Watts, a Living Democracy intern, has recently started volunteering at the garden and said that the benefits of working there go beyond any kind of produce. “I am seeing the benefit of working there because I get to help hand the produce out at the food bank,” Watts said. “There is benefit in getting to see other people use it and enjoy it.” Anyone wanting to volunteer at the Giving Garden should contact Chelsea Cooper by phone at 251-767-1237, or email at email@example.com.