Valley Park community gardens growing food, providing therapy
Red, white and blue pinwheels line more than two dozen raised wooden garden beds off Sunnybrook Drive in Hurricane.
Two large American flags hang from a gate — greeting members of the community to one of Valley Park’s newest additions.
Valley Park opened the area’s first-ever veterans community garden in May — a free garden for the area’s veterans to grow fresh fruits, vegetables, herbs and flowers.
Jarrod Dean, executive director of the Putnam County Parks and Recreation Commission, said the idea was born after he read research that suggested agriculture as a type of therapy for veterans.
“It’s been proven over the years that agriculture is therapeutic for veterans. So we’ve provided a space for them to come in here and relax and enjoy some gardening,” he said.
The fenced-in garden has more than two dozen wooden beds surrounded by gravel paths. Several beds are raised several feet to make them handicap accessible.
All 25 beds in the veterans garden are currently full. Dean said he hopes to expand the garden next summer to include more beds, a large mural depicting each branch of the Armed Forces and picnic tables to allow veterans to relax and enjoy the space.
“It just bring people together. It opens up dialogue for people to share ideas,” Dean said. “There’s nothing like this in Putnam County.”
Parks and recreation staff provide watering supplies, provide gardening tools and takes care of mowing the grass in the garden area. Plants for the launch of the veterans garden were provided by Whitt’s Farm Supply in Hurricane.
Parks staff will till each bed for gardeners prior to planting each of the seeds.
The veterans garden is currently full, and is open to veterans on a first come, first serve basis free of charge. The project was funded through a partnership with Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield, and wood to construct the beds was donated from Home Depot.
The veterans garden is the second community garden in Valley Park.
A second fenced-in community garden is located to the right of the veterans garden, which opened last year.
The community garden has more than two dozen wooden beds, open to members of the community to lease for the summer and fall growing seasons. Dean said it allows community members to grow their own food — even if they don’t have the space to do so at their own homes.
Gardeners can choose from different plot sizes, starting at $10 for a 2-by-8-foot raised bed to $30 for a 4-by-24-foot raised bed.
Dirt for plots in both gardens came directly from Valley Park, Dean said, with much of it coming from the park’s construction sites. Gardeners are permitted to grow any plants they choose — except corn, hemp and illegal drugs.
“It’s actually really good soil,” he said. “We even had it tested and everything and it’s really great for gardening.”
The county Parks and Recreation commission also owns a home on the site of the community gardens. Dean said he plans to open the home up for various groups to host classes, lectures and seminars.
A group from West Virginia State University planted an orchard in the backyard as a research project— featuring apples, pears, plums, pawpaws and nectarines. The trees were planted in January and are expected to produce fruit in a few as three years.
The home and community gardens overlook a hill that leads down to the remainder of Valley Park. In the coming summer seasons, Dean said he hopes to open a pick-you-own strawberry patch, inviting members of the community to come to the park on certain days to pick their own strawberries.
“That’ll be huge,” Dean said. “There’s nowhere else around here to go do that.”
Dean said in the future he plans to construct a walking path from the park to the gardens for easier access.
As of June 1, there were still six beds available in Valley Park’s community garden at the end of Sunnybrook Drive in Hurricane. Gardeners interested in leasing a plot are asked to email Dean at Jarrod@putnamcountyparks.com or call 304-562-0518.
Reach Carlee Lammers at Carlee.Lammers@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-1230 or follow @CarleeLammers on Twitter.