UCAN Spotlight – The Power of Gardening

One of the things about a community garden is the fact that there are as many growing methods and gardening styles as there are gardeners that employ them. As we walk through the garden we see raised framed beds on a pathway of mulch. We are just amazed to see the different types of vegetables that are growing throughout. The garden reflects such diversity with the plants and vegetables as well as the diversity of volunteers at the Catawba Trail Farm.

We would like to introduce to you one of our favorite volunteers, Lilton Evans. Mr. Evans is a retired Airforce Sergeant and our resident veteran as well as our raised bed connoisseur. He served in the Airforce from 1966 – 1970. Mr. Evans brings a wealth of knowledge of growing healthy plants and he loves to share this information with everyone. I had an opportunity to chat with Mr. Evans to get his thoughts about being a veteran, farming, and the importance of getting out and moving.

What do you like about volunteering at Catawba Trail Farm?

I enjoy being with the people and being outside. I have always been an outdoor person. It does not feel right just sitting around the house. I must get out into nature. Outside is life and you can see life growing all around you.

What are some unique things you have witnessed during your time at Catawba Trail Farm?

Mainly the growth of the land and the farm. I was there when it all started. You could only see woods and bushes. You could barely see through it. But I have witnessed the step by step process of the creation of the farm and how it has become a viable place for all to learn.

Why is it important to come out to the farm to volunteer from a veteran perspective?

We all know that veterans experience unique challenges that affect their mental and physical health. They are often affected for years by their service to our country. They must find their way outside. Gardening or farming gives them peace and it allows them to be productive. Being out in the sun, playing in the dirt, and creating a peaceful environment where you grow your fruits and vegetables has a powerful therapeutic effect. It also allows them to engage with people and share their life experiences with those that are eager to hear and learn. It gives you a sense of purpose.

What would you say to convince other veterans to get involved in gardening?

Being in nature is important to help you to re-engage with life. I would tell them that they would enjoy getting out of the house. Gardening is a good thing. There are so many benefits to gardening. You can reduce physical pain, reduce stress and anxiety, reduce depression. It can foster a sense of community and you can build new social connections. It can help you improve your overall diet by learning what to grow and how to harvest and cook it.

What does the Catawba Trail Farm mean to you as an African American man?

I was raised on a farm and I had first-hand knowledge of how much hard work it takes to be successful. As we all know some black farmers have struggled to make it. There are a lot of things that can block you on a farm from finances to weather and disease and learning how to navigate these challenges only proves that despite setbacks you can prevail. Being able to see our young black people gardening at the farm and learning and understanding how food is grown just blesses me. This makes me so very proud. 

How can we get more youth to come out to the farm?

Since COVID-19 it is a struggle to get youth to go anywhere. The kids are always online for school and entertainment. It’s rather difficult to get them out of the house but once you get them at the farm then they enjoy the activities. I was able to witness the kids during the Mushrooming event and they enjoyed it. The kids from the Jack and Jill organization seemed intrigued and engaged with learning something new. However, word of mouth is always the best way to get everyone out to the farm.

Tell us about your gardening experience?

It started from childhood. We always had gardens but on a much larger scale. We didn’t cultivate the land by hand we cultivated with tractors. I worked with big farms and it was more on a much larger scale. I never worked with box gardening before I came to the farm. What fascinates me about planting in a raised bed is to see how much food you can grow in a small confined area.

What is your favorite thing to grow?

I enjoy growing tomatoes and all types of greens.

Do you like to eat them? 

Of course, I like making sandwiches with my tomatoes. I also like cooking greens and throwing some ham hocks in the pot. I am getting hungry just talking about it.

Thank you Mr. Evans. We appreciate and value all that you bring to the Catawba Trail Farm. You are a true inspiration to us all. We thank you for your service to our country. If you want to learn more from  Mr. Evans, he is normally at the farm every Saturday. 

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