Community garden takes root on Hilton Head Island

tbarton@islandpacket.comJuly 21, 2012 

A new community garden has sprouted on Hilton Head Island.

For the past dozen years, some homeowners in Port Royal Plantation have requested a community garden, only to see the idea undone by high costs and waning enthusiasm.

In the heavily canopied and lushly vegetated plantation, many homeowners have but a few hours of sun per day, not enough to grow vegetables or flowers.

Frustrated by the lack of fruit for their labor, several residents banded together and dug in. The result: A new half-acre farm full of home-grown tomatoes, herbs and flowers.

"There's nothing like pulling a fresh tomato off the vine, warmed by the sun, that's flavorful and just delicious," said self-proclaimed "brown thumb" Karen Cleyrat, co-president of Fish Haul Farm.

The plantation agreed to donate land next to the community's tennis courts, which already had paved parking and easy access to water and electricity, saving volunteers thousands of dollars.

In January, farm members began digging holes, pouring concrete, setting posts and stringing wire for an electric fence to keep deer out.

Throughout the building process, the group found creative ways to reduce material costs by finding free supplies, using discounts and negotiating with vendors, Cleyrat said.

"What was a $31,000 project was built for around $6,000," she said, including $1,000 of seed money from the plantation, which also provided labor to install irrigation.

A grand opening was held July 11, followed by a harvest party. Farm members brought and shared dishes made from ingredients grown in their gardens -- from zucchini bread to eggplant casserole to chocolate cupcakes topped with fresh mint.

Fish Haul farmer Susan Heyman said she enjoys the camaraderie at the farm and looks forward to cutting the brightly colored flowers she hopes will flourish in her box. Not to mention the jalapenos she hopes to turn into hot pepper jelly and the Thai basil that adds a flavorful kick to her cooking.

"I've always had a garden at home, and I can't grow anything but impatiens," Heyman said. "This is fun for me to have all these flowers. I like enjoying what you produce."

About 15 plots remain for additional gardeners, Cleyrat said, and there is a designated area for organic farming, she added.

Cost to become a member is $210 to $260, including dues, cost to build a gardening box and soil, she said. Membership drops the second year to $30, plus cost for plants.

The gardeners plan to donate their produce to local food pantries within the next year or two, "when we become better farmers and have enough produce to donate," Cleyrat said.

Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/EyeOnHiltonHead.

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