The Harvest Foundation and the Greater Bassett Area Community (GBAC) organization have joined forces to create and maintain a community garden on Virginia 57 in front of the Dollar General store.

“We have always been interested in sponsoring gardens in the community as we felt beautification was important if we wanted to be a community where businesses and people wanted to live, work and play – it was important for community vitality,” said Sheryl Agee, impact officer/team leader at the foundation.

“We were looking to commit the funds needed to add a new garden each year, and starting in 2013 we had worked with the county through their SEED program to find an available location and put in a Harvest-sponsored garden,” she added, referring to Henry County.

Henry County administers the program because they have to be approved by the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) to ensure they meet right-of-way, road frontage and other requirements, Agee said.

Harvest’s first SEED community garden was near the hydroelectric dam next to the U.S. 58 exit to Stuart. It followed that with gardens on U.S. 220 South by the U.S. 58/220 bypass exit and on Irisburg Road on the way to the Smith River Sports Complex.

When it began looking for a fourth location, it focused on the Bassett/Stanleytown area which lacked such a garden and because it would tie in with the Smith River Small Towns initiative. Agee had worked with Greater Bassett Area Community (GBAC) on a previous Harvest PUP! grant to replace trees along Virginia 57, so she asked that group for garden spot suggestions and floated the idea of a partnership in which Harvest would fund the garden and GBAC would provide labor for regular maintenance of the site.

Agee said the best site was one with a small existing garden and welcome sign that was put up by the Stanleytown Ruritan Club, so she contacted Betty Scott, who was part of GBAC and the Ruritan Club. Also, the Ruritan Club had helped GBAC with the tree planting project, so “there was a history with both GBAC and Ruritans,” Scott said, adding that Robert Coleman and his wife, Jackie, both were heavily involved in the projects.

GBAC President John “Smokey” Pegram said the area had fallen into disrepair, so his group was pleased that Harvest was interested in expanding and improving it.

“It was sorely needed, quite honestly,” to enhance the entrance to the Bassett and Stanleytown area, Pegram said. “It (the existing garden and sign area) was not as grandiose as what we have now,” with only small trees and a bush or two, he added.

“Because we were outside of the normal process for the sponsored gardens, we (county, Harvest and GBAC) all decided that we needed to be clear on what everyone’s role would be in the garden so MOUs (memorandums of understanding) were developed to make sure we were all in agreement and clear about what we each needed to do,” Agee said.

For that reason, the garden was done as a partnership rather than a typical Harvest grant, she said.

Through the partnership, Harvest provided sponsorship funds through Henry County’s SEED (strategic economic environmental design) garden program for five years. The funding covers the design of the garden, the cost of buying and installing all plants, landscape materials and signs, and the first year of maintenance provided by a contracted landscaper selected by Henry County.

Harvest also provided funding to GBAC to help with maintenance and mowing costs for five years, which includes mulching twice a year and other upkeep activities.

According to Scott, the new garden includes Ilex aquipernyi “Dragon Lady” holly, Nandina domestica, bamboo, Loropetalum “Purple Diamond,” ilex crenata “Sky Pencil,” Chamaecyparis “Golden Mop” and a rose bush under the sign recognizing the Harvest Foundation, GBAC and the Ruritan Club.

Scott added that the plants look small now because they are new but will fill in the area as they grow. “It would be extremely lovely in about two years,” she added.

The design generally follows a template created by a landscaper for Harvest’s first community garden and focuses on adding color to the site with plants that do not die in off-seasons, Agee said.

Because the project is in its first year, GBAC has no expectation of how much manpower it will take to maintain the garden, Pegram said, but he thinks it will take 25 to 50 man hours a month “to keep it up like we want to.”

GBAC has about 25 active members who attend its meetings and do volunteer work. Also, members of the Bassett Church of the Brethren help with mowing, cleaning up litter and other tasks, Pegram said. GBAC also places mulch around trees and shrubs in the corridor that approaches Main Street in Bassett, and he said he believes its members and others will be able to handle the added workload.

Pegram added that the Harvest Foundation has been generous with GBAC.

“They’ve been very supportive. Just the fact that they would escrow some money to help us go forward with the maintenance of the plot was a generous offer on their part. They have been a good partner with us going forward and in the past,” he said.

The idea of forming a partnership to create and maintain the community garden was a different approach for Harvest, one Agee would not rule out doing again in the future.

“We are always open to creative partnerships that help us better work together for true change in our community,” she said.

To Scott, of GBAC and the Ruritan Club, the partnership sends a message about the residents of Bassett.

“In my opinion, the value of the partnership is the recognition from Harvest and from county officials that the Bassett community (people) want our area to be welcoming to folks going through our area. The cleanup and beautification show that the people who live here are proud of the area. The garden and landscaping show that we really care and we want our community to show a welcoming face to those visiting,” she stated.

PLANTING THE SEED
The SEED program in Henry County began after Lee Clark, the county’s director of Planning, Zoning, and Inspections saw successful beautification programs in other areas of the state. Localities had created those programs after the state authorized the gardens to be placed in VDOT rights of way, he said.

When no other entity stepped up to begin such a program here, “I felt it was important enough to take it on ourselves to create the program and manage it,” he said of his office.

Clark said the state code deals with the administration of the gardens, including the sponsorship fees. Those fees vary depending on the type of roadway where the garden is located, and they become more flexible after the first five years because capital costs are less, he added.

To help with the cost, Clark said he has traded services for fees. “I’ve got agreements with other gardens to stretch a dollar as far as I can go,” he said. But the Harvest-GBAC partnership in Bassett “is the first where a sponsor is agreeing to maintain the garden themselves.”

Most of the gardens are sponsored by businesses, although some nonprofit organizations sponsor the gardens, Clark said. The sponsors are recognized on signs in the gardens.

“It gives credit to the businesses that participate in that they get the opportunity to showcase their community pride and we put their name, their sign within that garden within that right of way for everyone to see who are the primary sponsors of that garden. No other entity can have that space” in the right of way, Clark said.

No public funds are spent on the gardens. If sponsors’ support was to end and new sponsors could not be found, the program would end, Clark said.

“It has to be self-supporting,” he said.