Ready to grow in North Richland Hills

NORTH RICHLAND HILLS -- Residents in Northeast Tarrant County can return to their grandparents' earthier roots beginning Saturday, when work begins on the first community garden in North Richland Hills.

Community gardens -- pieces of land gardened collectively -- are still rare in North Texas, but their popularity is growing. Plots are either under way or in the works in Grapevine, Mansfield, Fort Worth, Coppell and Arlington.

The Common Ground NRH Community Garden, on land belonging to Davis Memorial United Methodist Church, is being launched after several months of organization by volunteers, city officials, students and merchants.

"There has been overwhelming interest," volunteer coordinator Dianne Spradling said. "I think it's coming from people's desire to grow their own food in an organic environment."

The land is a bit under 1 acre and will hold 72 80-square-foot garden plots. But first, it has to get built. That's what this Saturday is for.

"Bring a wheelbarrow," said Geoff Sherman, landscape horticulturalist for the city. "I kid you not. We need help. We've got 140 cubic yards of soil to distribute."

Several dozen employees of The Home Depot will help build the raised beds, along with any prospective growers who show up. About 10 high school students from the Birdville and Keller districts who participate in Skills USA are building the storage shed as part of a community service project.

"We help out quite a bit on projects around the city, and this was another opportunity for us," said Mike Benton, a Birdville construction technology teacher.

City officials initiated plans for the garden this year after hearing that a number of residents were interested. Davis Memorial agreed to allow the garden on its land for 10 years. The city spent about $20,000 on material, including the irrigation system, and secured a $10,000 grant from The Home Depot for more.

The city will turn over management of the garden to volunteers, save for occasional maintenance, Sherman said.

"I talked to other cities who have one, and they all said you can't build it and expect people to come," he said. "You've got to start with an interested group of people who are willing to get involved at the outset."

Gardeners will pay a $40 annual fee for water, mulch and soil supplements. Sign-ups will begin Saturday.

Organizers hope that some produce will be shared with groups such as the Community Enrichment Center and the Tarrant Area Food Bank.

They acknowledge that it may be next spring before the garden yields much of a harvest. Not nearly as many gardeners plant winter vegetables, but there's nothing stopping anyone from a bountiful beet or carrot crop.

"We wanted to go ahead and get started to let the soil rest and work out any bugs in our operation," Sherman said. "We'll ask people to at least plant a cover crop this winter, but they can get to growing vegetables as soon as they want."

Chris Vaughn, 817-390-7547