HICKORY — Hickory Greenway Harvest nurtured its first mission to a fruitful foundation with the dedication of a raised bed garden at The SALT Block on April 1. The nonprofit organization’s milestone achievement marks the next step in its mission to utilize gardening as a way to engage the community with charitable giving, community organization, educational outreach, therapeutic solutions and leadership development.
“I wanted to find a conduit that would work well with all walks of life, and the metaphors you can attach to gardening are very applicable to how I see leadership development, how I see community support and how I see healing, because it has really worked for me in that way,” said Hickory Greenway Harvest founder and president Marcus Miller. “This is the culmination of a year’s worth of work bringing together a lot of like-minded individuals who have a passion for giving back to the community.”
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Founded in 2016, Hickory Greenway Harvest was conceived by Miller in the wake of his own personal recovery from life’s challenges — failed marriages, destructive habits and career setbacks. In the fold of a new family, he found a passion for gardening as well as a mentor that helped him better understand the therapeutic value of working hard to sow, tend and harvest crops in the earth. Aided by a group of volunteers, Miller organized a plan to create a garden capable of impacting a larger audience similarly.
“We are extremely thankful for the individuals and groups that have worked with HGH both physically, spiritually and financially to bring our garden from dream to reality,” said Hickory Greenway Harvest vice president and treasurer Michele Long. “We hope we continue to have individuals and groups step forward to help our garden and our vision grow.”
Based on similar community gardens that provide fresh produce to food banks and shelters, Hickory Greenway Harvest has partnered with a group of organizations to not only nourish that need, but to also provide broader skills. The urban vegetable garden near downtown Hickory is the next step toward achieving broader goals.
“Our goal is to create a volume of awareness in the community that will contribute to a larger sense of sustainability and commitment to growing our own food,” Miller said. “The more people we can inspire to do this at their own homes or in their own neighborhood or town, I think the better off the community as a whole will be.”
Hickory Greenway Harvest is focused on establishing educational opportunities that provide instruction not just on gardening, but also healthy lifestyles and nutrition. Therapeutic outreach is another avenue the organization is pursuing as a means of assisting agencies focused on fulfilling this essential need.
“My hope is that over the lifespan of this organization, we are able to touch a lot of people and I hope to touch an individual in such a way that they want to become a leader in this community,” Miller said. “If we can be successful in doing that, then we can rest in the solace that we have done everything we can to benefit the community.”
With a key goal of providing an educational and developmental resource, Hickory Greenway Harvest found a strong partner in the SALT Block Foundation, which provided land for 12 raised bed vegetable gardens, an annual garden and additional perennial flower space.
“In my wildest dreams, I could have never expected to have such a great opportunity to have our garden in a location that is already a meeting place for the community,” Miller said, adding that the garden’s close proximity to Catawba Science Center holds great promise. “We hope we can create learning opportunities around gardening for the children that come to visit the Science Center.”
Supporting organizations like Catawba Science Center and other tenants around Hickory’s unique city block of cultural resources is the mission of The SALT Block Foundation.
“The SALT Block Foundation is excited to partner with the Hickory Greenway Harvest. Our new urban garden will serve as a collaboration between both organizations, serving the needs of food sustainability education, as well as perpetuating the benefits of mentorship, volunteerism and leadership growth within the Hickory community,” said SALT Block Foundation executive director Tara H. Bland.
Hickory Greenway Harvest pooled critical financial support from other partners, including N.C. Cooperative Extension’s Catawba County Center, Hickory Rotary Club, Catawba County Farm Bureau, Carolina Glove and Transportation Insight’s employee-driven charitable organization, Service in Action. Other groups and businesses provided additional financial or in-kind donations. Those organizations helped provide resources required to create the garden. HGH has nearly met its fund-raising goal to produce the raised-bed garden, but the work is just beginning, Miller said.
“Although we have a fixed budget for this particular project, our needs for funding are ongoing. We have activities we want to conduct in the community that we will need to fund,” he said. “And the likelihood is that we’ll have other organizations that will want us to come and help sponsor and build a garden for their organization.
“We need to be constantly looking for a way to keep the project funded so that when we have opportunities arise, we can step right up and do the right thing by people who are looking for assistance,” Miller said, adding that in addition to the urban garden in Hickory, the organization also operates a larger farming operation south of Newton in Catawba County.
The 501(c)(3) organization has already found collaborators, such as Hickory Soup Kitchen and Safe Harbor Rescue Mission/Women’s Shelter, through which it aims to identify specific needs and individuals that can benefit from the garden, as well as educational and therapeutic outreach.
While project partners are important to its success thus far, Miller said Hickory Greenway Harvest’s health is only as strong as its volunteer roots. Many of those volunteers have spent hours at live events helping children plant carrots and learn about agriculture. Others work to plan and organize the infrastructure to support Hickory Greenway harvest’s educational programming. Volunteers filled raised beds with dirt, planted vegetables and maintained the site where City Farm Project built the garden’s frame.
“Volunteers are the lifeblood of this project. We need a constant infusion of new people with new ideas, new passions and a desire to singularly support the community in some way,” Miller said. “If you happen to be one of those kind of people, we want to talk to you, and we want to find out if there is a place to exercise your passion and at the same time help us reach out and support our community.”
Miller said he found his passion for gardening thanks to his father-in-law, Fred D Abernethy, to whom Hickory Greenway Harvest’s raised bed garden was dedicated. A life-long Catawba County resident and 67-year employee of Carolina Glove, Abernethy filled an important role at an important time for Miller.
“I didn’t know my own father growing up and Fred has played a significant role in becoming that individual in my life,” he said. “Without his leadership and love, I wouldn’t find myself to be in the position to do what I am doing for Hickory Greenway Harvest.”
Going forward, Hickory Greenway Harvest aims to expand its reach across other Catawba County communities near the greenway that stretches throughout the county.
For more information about Hickory Greenway Harvest, visit the organization’s website at www.hickorygreenwayharvest.org.