By Amy Wenk
amywenk@reporternewspapers.net

This summer several North Buckhead residents put their green thumbs to good use.

At the Blue Heron Community Garden off Roswell Road, many of the gardeners who tend the 32 plots collaborated in growing organic food to feed the homeless.

Called the Garden for the Hungry, the charitable endeavor was the dream of Kevin McCauley, the president of the board for the Blue Heron Nature Preserve.

“It’s nice to do something for someone else,” said McCauley, who got the idea while volunteering for the Atlanta Community Food Bank. “We all feel very lucky to have a garden in the middle of Buckhead and want to share what we grow with others who may not have the opportunity to have fresh, organic vegetables. Besides, we take the ‘community’ part of community garden very seriously.”

McCauley acted quickly on the idea, setting up the plot and filling it with compost made from cast-off and dried-up plants from the community gardeners.

As a result, “something unusual had happened in the plot for the hungry,” said Buckhead resident Sue Certain, the gardener who organized the project. “Several plants had been placed in the plot … but the others self-seeded from our homemade compost. The self-seeded ones had the vitality of weeds. This was especially true of the cucumbers, which grew like kudzu.”

She added: “It was really amazing. That’s enough to make someone think of some sort of a divine force.”

Looking for a recipient in close proximity, Certain decided on Crossroads Community Ministries (CCM), begun by St. Luke’s Episcopal Church. Housed on Courtland Street, the nondenominational nonprofit offers services to the homeless, including Clyde’s Kitchen, which provides 200 free meals Monday through Friday (73,000 a year).

“I felt that we should give our charitable vegetable donations directly to an end user,” Certain said.

She learned from CCM Executive Director Stan Dawson that the agency was in need because of the state of the economy. He said tough economic times affect the ministry in two ways: Fewer donations come in, but the community has a greater need.

“It was at this crucial time that I received a phone call from Sue Certain,” Dawson said. “Her smiling phone voice was calling to offer the garden’s produce for our guests. She hardly finished her explanation before I was gleefully responding. The timing was perfect. And, most importantly, our guests enjoyed very fresh produce — a rare item for Crossroads.”

Certain and her husband, Gordon, took food in at least once a week from the beginning of July until after Labor Day. McCauley assisted in making three trips towards the end of summer.

“We saw the homeless people as we drove past them on Courtland Street, in an experience that was at the same time inspiring and depressing,” Certain said. “It was depressing that anyone had to live this way. … But it was inspiring because we were helping them, and soon they would be eating fresh, locally grown, organic food.”

The gardeners of Blue Heron donated 140 pounds of food to the CCM soup kitchen. The fresh produce included heirloom tomatoes, peppers, peaches, herbs, melons, blackberries, onions, okra, blueberries, eggplants and loads of cucumbers.

Certain’s daughter Jessica and her friend Andy Sunshine, as well as members of Certain’s book club, also assisted with donating items, including 23.5 pounds of canned food.

CCM turned the donations into sandwiches, soups and salads.

“While the issue of homelessness is very complicated, sometimes simple solutions can have major impact on human lives,” Dawson said. “CCM is very thankful for such a caring gesture.”

The garden is just beginning to grow with such winter crops as lettuce, collards, beets and onions. The plan is for ongoing donations of produce each season.