'We’re 100% living in a food desert'; Demand high at Downtown Norfolk Community Garden as food costs rise

Downtown Norfolk Community Garden.jpg
Posted at 12:21 PM, Jul 27, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-27 17:38:54-04

NORFOLK, Va. – Less than three months after being constructed, the Downtown Norfolk Community Garden is drawing many walks of life and also gaining quite a bit of attention.

The garden started with 30 raised beds on the grounds of Freemason Street Baptist Church at 400 East Freemason Street. Organizers say it may soon double in size.

Some, like John Miller, the garden’s manager, describe its location as being in the middle of a food desert. They try to make gardening affordable for everyone.

“We want to make sure people feel welcomed and that they’re not embarrassed by food insecurity. We gotta’ talk about it. We gotta’ to break that stigma," Miller stated.

Jack Ferguson is a member of the church. He says individual residents are using the garden, as well as restaurants and even groups that help the homeless population. He said the garden beds sit where an old childcare building was torn down several years ago. Next, they had to decide what to do with the land.

"About that time as we were discussing it, COVID hit and that stopped everything," described Ferguson who said that's when they came up with the idea of a community garden.

"This will be a perfect spot for it: an oasis in downtown Norfolk and something everybody can benefit from."

Ferguson is pleased the project has many partners including the Downtown Norfolk Civic League.

On Wednesday morning, STIHL Inc., based in Virginia Beach, made a donation of outdoor power equipment including a lawn mower, leaf blower, trimmers, and gloves. Miller welcomes the donation which he says will allow them to use their funds in other ways like helping to offset costs for low-income individuals who want to use the garden.

Organizers say the mission is to create a public space where the community can learn about urban agriculture and share in camaraderie through the cultivation of fresh fruits and vegetables.

The plots are raised beds measuring 4 by 8 feet. The cost is $70 which is partially subsidized by Freemason Street Baptist Church, but Miller says local businesses have made donations to allow them to provide low-cost or even no-cost gardening to low-income residents who desire to have their own plot.

Two water cisterns are also on-site, serviced by the church. For beginners, the Norfolk Master Gardner organization is available to provide tips.

See more about the garden on News 3 at 4:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday.