I'm a huge fan of parting seas and rainbows after 40 days and 40 nights of rain.
But as a member of the modern human race, my deepest belief is that what constitutes a miracle is usually preceded by a combination of opportunity, luck and the kind of hard work that generates sore backs and really filthy fingernails.
Still, when social activist Carol Greenberg told me she was planning a community garden in an abandoned lot right off a busy section of Abercorn, I was skeptical.
It wasn’t securing the spot that seemed out of reach; with a little paperwork, most any non-profit group can adopt one of 400 FEMA-designated lots via the city’s Community Garden program. It was more the spectacularly ambitious vision of bringing together a disparate neighborhood of varying generations and socioeconomic strata, building infrastructure solely on donated materials and feeding the hungry, all on a homely piece of land prone to flooding and bordered by roaring traffic.
“Everyone who gets a raised bed donates the surplus to the Second Harvest Food Bank, and we’re going to have a children’s classroom,” Carol informed me when I stopped by the corner of Abercorn and 64th a couple of months ago.
“For phase two, we’ll have extra tall beds for handicapped access, and there’s going to be a solar-powered aquaponic installation back there,” she said, pointing to a robustly overgrown patch of weeds.
I squished my toe dubiously into the soggy ground and nodded politely, thinking, Good luck with that. I’m going to get some coffee.
I should have known that if anyone could pull if off, it would be Carol. A dyed-in-the-wool eternal optimist who launched MorningStar Cultural Arts back when monster truck shows at the Civic Center were the height of sophisticated entertainment in Savannah, she has thrown herself into hundreds of creative endeavors and community projects. Not only that, this lady was recycling and reclaiming long before “sustainability” became a hipster mating call.
For this grandiose garden scheme, Carol must’ve felt like Noah, wrangling believers on board like a herd of unwilling oxen. Unlike the biblical figure (and now major motion picture star), however, Carol did not incite a rioting stampede. Instead, the people responded to her exuberant but firm requests for help:
Contractors let her schlep extra wood from their construction sites. Vaden Automotive Group donated a red wagon. Volunteers showed up with tools and dirt and paint and seedlings. Among them was District 5 Alderperson Mary Ellen Sprague, who regularly digs in the plots (and ostensibly makes sure that no one’s plotting to build another rooming house in the neighborhood.)
A month after receiving its official permit, the Midtown Miracle Community Garden has risen from the earth as if by some divine hand.
Of course, it was just plain people hands, most of them now blistered. But what they’ve done! The periwinkle pergola that welcomes visitors is made from wood reclaimed from a dilapidated playground. Pastel-hued raised beds line a walkway of old pallets. In the children’s area sits a platoon-shaped herb garden Carol’s husband Joel calls “The Ark of the Condiments.”
Michelle Allan began bringing her kids to the garden several times a week to build and now tend their adopted bed, crowded with broccoli and strawberry plants.
“It’s given me an opportunity to teach my children about community service, growing their own food and being responsible for a project from beginning to end,” says Michelle, who brings non-perishables for the monthly food bank collection.
While several community gardens are flourishing around town, the Midtown Miracle stands out not just in its astonishing manifestation in so little time but as a cooperative effort.
“What sets this garden apart from the others is the outreach that Carol has done, the programs she’s planning, and the desire to not only make this a neighborhood garden, but one that will benefit the Savannah community as a whole,” admires Carol Moon, who oversees the Community Garden program.
There’s room in the community boxes for more veggies, and the endeavor still needs all kinds of help, especially from folks who can help design a drip irrigation system and the aforementioned aquaponic fish tank. (Give people a fish and they have dinner; teach them how to grow fish and produce in the same low-impact system and you feed them for a lifetime.)
If you’re not into getting dirty, consider sending a daily vote for the Midtown Miracle to win a $10,000 grant from the Seeds of Change Grant Program (Go to seedsofchangegrant.com and type in “31405”.)
I cruised by the garden again last week, just as the morning crew was dispersing. There was Carol, in orange sneakers and gardening gloves, the beans and tomatoes rising behind her as vines of victory.
“Pretty snazzy, eh?” she winked, showing off the new watering spigot. I apologized for doubting her, but she waved me off good-naturedly, showing me where she’s going to put wine-barrel planters, a memorial citrus grove and The Savannah Table, a sit-down garden bed where visitors can learn about the city’s “diverse ethno-cultural culinary history.”
Just when I caught myself thinking, well, that all sounds lovely but it probably won’t happen, a truck pulled up to dump 10,000 pounds of donated gravel for the handicapped access ramp.
Suddenly no beautiful dream seemed out of reach as the azalea bushes muffled the traffic noise and the pergola’s wind chimes tinkled. What was once a dank, dismal patch of low land now yields an edible bounty, and that’s as wonderful an occurrence anyone could ever witness.
I left Carol under the giant magnolia doing her happy gravel dance, thinking how many miracles we can create with our own hands, if we just believe hard enough in them.