In downtown Helena sits a plot of land a bit larger than half a city block, where dreams and vegetables are grown.

The Helena Community Garden, first created in the early 2000s, has had some ups and downs. When it was originally constructed, there was a lot of positive energy surrounding the project from the community who came together to make it a reality, but over time, that energy fizzled out as theft became an issue and members slowly stopped showing up to tend to their crops.

Thrive, a local nonprofit organization focused on helping communities, saw great opportunity in the abandoned, dilapidated garden and became heavily involved in late 2011. The garden had fallen into substantial disrepair and become a local hang out for young people, partially due to trees and overgrowth that obstructed the street lights. According to Thrive co-founder Terrance Clark, the first two years were spent cleaning up and taking the garden back. During that time, a fence was constructed around the garden to help deter theft.

Thrive then partnered with Arkansas GardenCorps, an AmeriCorps program that advocates the use of gardens in schools and communities to provide nutritional, agricultural, and environmental education with the intention of reducing childhood obesity. The program aims to develop and maintain school and community gardens with recruited volunteers to increase community access to fresh produce and teach garden-based nutrition education to youth and adults.

Through Arkansas GardenCorps, Thrive was able to bring on the Helena Community Garden's first paid service member, John Fewkes, in 2014.

Fewkes was as passionate about restoring the Helena community as he was about growing things. He brought agricultural experience and knowledge to the team, and helped turn the garden around in a short period of time, creating a sustainable plan for the future of the project. His dedication inspired the community once more to support the efforts of the Helena Community Garden.

Thrive and Fewkes focused on using the garden as an outdoor classroom to teach students the value of growing their own food and making healthy food choices, developing curriculums to fit the needs of all students and teachers.

Sadly, Fewkes suffered a heart attack on April 8, 2016, while mowing the grass at the garden. The community felt the loss deeply, and after he passed away, the garden stalled. Thrive no longer had a service member to manage the project, so the baton was passed to the Delta Cultural Center.

The Delta Cultural Center hired service member Susan Alman in October 2017. Alman had previously volunteered at many community gardens and taught firsthand farming and gardening to students in grades Pre-K through 8th before earning a Masters degree in Horticulture. She is very excited to apply her knowledge and experiences to bring success to the Helena Community Garden.

During the winter, Alman cleaned up the property, made a plan for the 2018 season, and applied for some grants to get ahead on meeting funding. She has strived for one volunteer work day per month since October. She is involved with the local schools already, presenting introductions to community gardening at both Central High School and Barton Elementary. She has been reaching out to local community leaders to raise awareness about the garden and bring in local participation.

Future plans for the Helena Community Garden include several different educational programs such as a Delta agricultural plot to grow crops that are historically grown in the Delta area, such as soybeans, cotton, rice, and corn (with fun, kid-friendly twists) and garden-based cooking classes. To keep up with the Helena Community Garden, please visit their Facebook page, where you can find information on upcoming volunteer opportunities, updates on the garden, and more.