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CCU Atheneum: Rachel Teichman (left), Darcy Coughlan (second from left) Jaime McCauley (seated) and student volunteers stand in front of the community garden they created in Conway.
Rachel Teichman (left), Darcy Coughlan (second from left) Jaime McCauley (seated) and student volunteers stand in front of the community garden they created in Conway.

CCU faculty- and student-driven community garden brings food accessibility to downtown Conway

by Melanie Smith
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To say the fall semester was a time for lending a hand is an understatement. The faculty and staff of Coastal Carolina University have had many opportunities to feel the teal. One project that’s been in the works since last year foreshadowed the ultimate season of giving – a community garden.

It started with a student’s vision and led to months of research, an experiential learning grant and lots of teamwork. The community garden in Conway is a public space turned nutritional resource for people in need of free greens, fruits or herbs. The idea was sparked by CCU alumnus Rachel Teichman '18, who is still actively involved.

“My dream was to provide a space for people walking on the sidewalk to access fresh fruit in case they were facing food insecurity or an empty stomach,” Teichman said.

After beginning her independent study, Teichman asked sociology professor Jaime McCauley if crafting a proposal for this garden to be housed in Myrtle Beach could be her area of focus. After months of preparation, she proposed a plan to use certain pieces of land to grow fruit trees in public spaces. The Myrtle Beach parks director ultimately rejected the plan, and Teichman returned to the drawing board.

Around the same time, sociology professor Sara Brallier suggested the open space on the nonprofit Churches Assisting People’s property, a city-owned lot with easy access to downtown Conway. Soon after, city officials gave permission to set this plan into motion.

Shortly after the city’s approval, the team submitted a grant proposal and received up to $10,000 in experiential learning funds. Then the garden really began to bloom.

A lemon tree, greens and a place to read

The grant allowed McCauley and Darcy Coughlan, another sociology professor, to purchase 10 garden beds, soil to fill them, cinderblocks and rain barrels for structure, benches, and plants to grow. After Hurricane Florence, resources were limited at hardware stores like Lowe’s, which delayed the process. Nonetheless, the pair purchased plants for fruits and vegetables that are harvested during the colder months.

The fruit section of the garden includes lemon, loquat and pineapple guava trees, which bear fruit in the late winter or early spring.

“We had some reservations about them not being fruit most people are familiar with. We want fruit like this to be accessible for everyone,” said McCauley. But, the trees providing unfamiliar fruit complement the familiar batches of apples and peaches that are routinely donated to the CAP food pantry next door.

The garden beds house fresh lettuce, kale, strawberries and artichoke, providing an easy salad. Several pots of herbs grow inside the CAP during the colder months. Teichman is interning at the CAP office following her graduation from Coastal, creating recipes with the herbs. With accessibility to these resources, simple ingredients can become filling meals.

“We recognize that people who utilize the food pantry probably don’t have time or equipment to make full-on meals,” McCauley said. “They may or may not be able to go home and make a pot of spaghetti sauce, but nonetheless if they are getting sauce from here, at least they can mix some fresh things in.”

Big plans are in the works for the garden. More garden beds will be planted in the spring depending on how much maintenance the garden requires. When students are out of school, community partners like the Clemson Extension Master Gardener program and the Boy Scouts will lend a hand. There are future plans for adding a gazebo and free library to provide more of a “park” feel, but these are budget-dependent.

Hands-in-dirt learning

McCauley and Coughlan reworked two of their classes to fit the experiential learning standards the grant required. McCauley teaches environmental sociology and Coughlan teaches sustainability, so with the two classes meshing together, students become a team of gardeners truly getting hands-on experience.

“We have students come out and do the work,” McCauley said. “It’s a great experience for students to connect.”

Rain or shine, students have worked relentlessly to see this project through. Some students had never used a shovel or planted a plant before, so this experience was a way to not only gain school credit, but to learn gardening skills they can use for the rest of their lives. The students are required to spend a certain number of hours working on the garden, and some exceed their quota because they genuinely enjoy the work.

“I’ve been really impressed with how positive the students are,” Coughlan said. “We’ve had different weather conditions each time we’ve come out. They’ve been very flexible; sometimes we can’t dig because the ground is too saturated, so they offer to do other things like paint rocks or work at the food pantry.”

A valuable aspect of this project is the sense of community built through working together.

“Students will drive by and every time they see the garden, they know they helped build it,” Coughlan said. “It makes them feel more connected to the community they’re going to call home for four years. There’s more to this area than the campus and the beach.”

The mayor of Conway, Barbara Blain-Bellamy, is humbled by the efforts shown through this garden to develop a meaningful connection between campus and Conway.

“I am sincerely grateful to the CCU family for their broad and extensive offerings of help in local community-building, problem-solving, and adding love and hope to those who need it most,” Blain-Bellamy said. “Our city is better because Coastal Carolina University is a part of us.”

The Department of Athletics, Sustain Coastal and the Swain Scholars have been integral to the garden, providing to students an avenue to accrue volunteer hours.

Jeremy Monday, sustainability coordinator at CCU, monitored Sustain Coastal’s efforts to help bring this garden to life through additional funding, designing and implementing ideas. Sustain Coastal will be purchasing benches for garden that are made of recycled plastics.

“This project aligns directly with our mission to build sustainability through curriculum, engaging students through learning and outreach, and collaboration in the community through stewardship of resources,” Monday said. “I hope that the future will bring more opportunities for students to be involved with fighting hunger in this community we all love.”

For more information on volunteering or further developments, contact McCauley at jmccauley@coastal.edu or Coughlan at dcoughlan@coastal.edu.

 

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