Food incorporated into street planters

Published 9:56 am Thursday, June 25, 2020

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If you’ve driven down East Depot Street in Mocksville lately, you may have done a double-take when passing the big brick planter in the middle of the road across from J.P. Green Milling.

Among the daylilies and verbena are plants you just don’t expect to see in a town planter. Tomatoes. Peppers. Peas. Squash. And over in the two small planters on one side of the street – could that be lettuce and Swiss chard?

It could be and it is.

Thanks to the Davie County Extension Master Gardener Volunteers (EMGVs), an area without ready access to fresh produce now has vegetables available for residents of surrounding neighborhoods to pick and enjoy.

The project started with an idea from Beth Dixon, a long-time Davie County EMGV. She had read a book on foodscaping, which is the practice of incorporating edible plants into ornamental plantings.

In the Summer of 2019, the Town of Mocksville requested help with the brick planters along East Depot.  When the request came in to the Davie County EMGVs, Dixon suggested that foodscaping be incorporated into the plantings.

Town officials liked the idea. And so the project was born.

The first year was a learning experience. The three planters are in a tough spot for growing anything. The large planter is located in the middle of a sea of asphalt and receives full sun all day. The two smaller planters sit next to the street but are graced with some afternoon shade.

Last July and August, the Davie County EMGVs planted winter squash, turnips, and miniature pumpkins to start. The winter squash throve, as did the pumpkins and turnips. Later in the year, once the weather cooled down, the EMGVs planted kale, spinach, lettuce, radishes, and onions. Dixon, Teresa Johnson, and other Davie County EMGVs kept the planters weeded and made sure that vegetables were harvested when ready.

This spring, the project ramped up.

Davie EMGVs cleared weeds and trimmed back the ornamental plants in the planters. Early in spring, they planted lettuce and English peas. Later on, they added green beans and tomatoes. On a recent workday, they planted squash, peppers, eggplant, Swiss chard, and more tomatoes. Many of the plants were propagated by the Davie EMGVs themselves.

The idea is to provide the widest variety of vegetables that can be grown in these small spaces. Any vegetables not harvested by members of the community are picked and donated to Storehouse for Jesus.

Members of the community have already come by to pick the fresh vegetables.

The Davie County EMGVs are working to develop a closer relationship with the community and get the word out to more people about the available produce. The planters may also serve as an inspiration to those people who would like to have a vegetable garden, but don’t think they have an ideal space.

“After all, if you can grow vegetables in a planter in the middle of the road, you should be able to grow them almost anywhere,” said Susan Hawkins, Davie Extension horticulture agent.