Arbor Day brings fruit and nut trees to Pleasant Hill garden

acastillo@macon.comFebruary 15, 2013 

While growing up in Macon’s Pleasant Hill community, Naomi Johnson used to eat plums from trees in her neighborhood.

Johnson, now in her 70s, hopes new fruit and nut trees planted in the Pleasant Hill Community Garden during Friday’s Arbor Day ceremony will give others the chance to enjoy some of life’s simpler pleasures.

For years, community organizers tried to get fruit trees in the garden to supplement the vegetables growing there, she said. In the decade since the garden was started, it has produced more than 4,000 pounds of produce such as collard greens, cucumbers and sweet potatoes for seniors and the physically disabled.

With the new trees, Johnson said she imagined children eating plums as she did and “having the juice run down to their elbow.”

The Pleasant Hill Community Garden now has plum -- as well as kiwi, pomegranate and 20 to 30 other kinds of fruit- and nut-bearing trees -- thanks to a $2,000 Edible NeighborWoods Grant from Keep Georgia Beautiful.

Johnson, the garden’s program coordinator, hopes to enjoy the garden in the near future. “I’m optimistic that they will grow, and hopefully I and others can sit in the shade of those trees,” she said Friday.

The Keep Macon-Bibb Beautiful Commission is administering the grant, with the money covering the costs of the trees and irrigation systems, said Pam Carswell, the commission’s executive director.

Carswell said local organizers drew inspiration from first lady Michelle Obama’s example. Obama started the first White House garden since first lady Eleanor Roosevelt maintained one there.

In its first year, more than one ton of produce was grown in Obama’s garden, which was donated to the homeless in Washington, D.C., Carswell said.

“Likewise, we have a goal of one ton of produce our first year, right here in the Pleasant Hill community,” she said. “This would support 200 families right here in Macon.”

Before the first tree -- a persimmon tree -- was planted Friday before midday, local dignitaries talked about the garden.

Macon City Councilman Tom Ellington, who has been going to the garden for almost six years, said it is one of his favorite places in Macon.

“It’s a community garden in the best sense of the word,” he said. “It serves the community, and it brings people together.”

The morning ceremonies also included a prayer from Rabbi Larry Schlesinger, who is a Macon councilman, and an Arbor Day proclamation from the city.

The event at the garden also brought together the young and the old, Johnson said, through performances from students at Central High School and the Pinegate Angels, a senior citizens singing group.

Students from Northeast High School’s Future Farmers of America chapter spent part of the afternoon planting trees in the garden. Northeast students already have been volunteering in the garden for about three years, said Lula Curry-Williams, an agriculture education teacher and FFA adviser at the school.

Working in the garden helps students appreciate the efforts that go into producing food, Curry-Williams said.

“They know where the food comes from -- how it gets from the farm to the store,” she said.

Northeast student Natasha Reed said working with the garden’s tree planting project is important work.

“It makes me feel like I’m a part of something bigger,” she said.

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