In April of this year, Atlas Organics got a simple request. Could we donate compost to a local community garden in Canton, North Carolina? That request was filtered through the normal channels, but it wasn’t until a call with the directors of Backyard Organics and Leslie Rodgers, Director of Sales & Marketing for Atlas, that we became aware of just how incredible this opportunity was.
Backyard Organic Community Garden (BYOCG) was established in 2015. It started small, but after two years of growing organic produce, the owners, Marty and Michael Yates, quickly determined they had excess food and wanted to share with the community. They joined the “GROW TO GIVE” initiative and developed a partnership with a local food kitchen that used the produce to feed food insecure families. By 2018 they were involved with the Master Gardener Association in their county and the garden was used for teaching, conducting plant trials, and providing volunteer opportunities for the MG members.
The garden became a location where volunteers could grow their own and have hands on experience with gardening. All these opportunities were free to anyone that wanted to participate averaging 15-20 volunteers weekly that tended the gardens, from planning to harvesting. They continued to donate all of the produce. “On average for the years 2018-2021, Backyard Organics donated 1.5-2 tons of fresh harvested, organic produce and supplied several distribution partners” Marty shared. “Our garden had also expanded the donations to include Meals on Wheels and Pathways while continuing to support the Canton Community Kitchen.”
2021 was the year where great expansion was planned. BYOCG had built 17 new raised beds and invested thousands of dollars in materials and soil to create the new beds. Then on August 17, 2021, Tropical Storm Fred hit, and the area became a disaster zone. Backyard Organic Community Garden was devastated by the flood waters and all the years of building and creating the gardens were destroyed. Besides washing away the garden soil, there was approximately 60 cubic yards of debris and contaminated soil. The question became: What should they do? “Getting heavy equipment in to repair the property was impossible at first; the equipment was being used to build roads and bridges, the area was too wet, and there was no access into the garden due to damaged roads plus winter was setting in” said Marty.
Marty and Michael decided to wait it out, focus on helping those who had it much worse, and make a solid plan that would restore the gardens while addressing future flooding and creating a more sustainable garden. Their motto: 2022 would be a good year and we’ll come out of this better and stronger! When the time finally came in 2022 to tackle the rebuilding of BYOCG the job was a tremendous one. The soils were contaminated with bacteria and chemicals from multiple properties. From fertilizers to animal waste, they had a large amount of run off contamination to deal with. All the raised beds had to be emptied of soil and repaired, the row gardens had to be tilled & limed 3 times, and all the perennial crops and root crops had to be removed with asparagus, rhubarb, perennial onions, garlic etc needing to be started over.
This is where Atlas gets to join the story! After connecting with BYOCG, the team at Atlas jumped at the opportunity to donate compost and help in any way we could to kick start the rebuilding of this community garden! “The generosity of Atlas Organics has been a tremendous gift. We can honestly say, that without the compost for refilling ALL our raised beds, we would never have been able to grow our summer/fall crops. We had a budget of $800 to purchase replacement soils (which was 4 cyds) and the amount we received from Atlas Organics far exceeded that value. We can restore the entire community garden with the donation” shared Marty.
The current goal for the team at BYOCG is to have a great summer and fall garden so they can increase their yields. They hope to donate approximately 750-1000 Ibs of produce this year. Fortunately, the berry bushes were not affected and therefore, all the blackberries, blueberries, and raspberries will be included in their donations. Marty and Michael have big goals for the rest of 2022, as well! “We’re planning on building more raised beds with Atlas Compost and fresh soil, creating more fruit crops and expanding the orchard, installing a rain garden to filter future run off, creating hügelkultur berms along the creek bank and adding Atlas Compost, and MUCH MORE” shared Marty. BYOCG truly is coming back bigger and stronger than ever before. Their impact on the community will only grow from here.
None of the 30 yards donated by Atlas is going to waste! “With the extra compost, we are also working with the Food Justice Planning Initiative for Community Gardens and the Pigeon River Garden Club by installing or expanding community gardens in Haywood County. BYOCG is so grateful to have the Atlas donation to address food security in our community” Marty explained. Atlas Organics is honored to have partnered with an organization that is making such an incredible difference in their community!