Jim Morris, retired chief judge of the Juvenile Court of Cobb County, Ga., is "up to his elbows in mulch," these days, his wife says with a laugh.
Jo-Evelyn Morris, it should be said, has plenty of dirt under her own fingernails.
The Morrises are founders of the North Marietta Community Garden in what was once part of an elementary school playground. About 50 neighbors, Cobb County Master Gardeners and other volunteers have been working to turn what had become an unused and overgrown piece of land into a thriving plot of fruits, vegetables, herbs, flowers and, most importantly, community renewal.
Jim and Jo-Evelyn Morris live in Cherokee Heights, one of Marietta's oldest and most well-kept neighborhoods. It's in a National Historic District and was once home to actress Joanne Woodward.
But just a few blocks to the east is a different-looking place, a low-income neighborhood that has seen its share of hard times. "Allgood Road had a bad reputation for illegal behavior," Jo-Evelyn Morris said.
What was once Allgood Elementary School, at the corner of Allgood Road and Pine Street, is now home to a Head Start program. Head Start closed off the back section of the playground because it was overrun with underbrush, diseased trees, poison ivy, English ivy, "anything you'd try to get out of your yard was there," Jim Morris said.
That's where members of the North Marietta Neighborhood Association and Cobb Master Gardeners have pushed down their shovels. The first garden beds were given to the kids in the Head Start program last fall and were harvested this spring.
"Gardening is a wonderful common denominator," Jo-Evelyn Morris said. She and her husband talked to the Daily Report about the project.
How did the garden get started?
We started talking about a community garden two years ago. Head Start had this unused section of playground that was big enough. When we approached Marietta City Schools and Cobb Head Start, they supported the idea that it could become a community garden. Every door opened up for us. The Master Gardeners of Cobb County -- a nonprofit group -- established the garden as a Master Gardener project. They provided volunteers and educational funds and also got a 5 percent day at Harry's Farmers Market, which paid for the installation of the irrigation system. The city of Marietta and Keep Marietta Beautiful Inc. helped significantly. Marietta Tree Service owner Tracy Langston and his crew cut down diseased trees. Head Start paid for the fence to separate the garden from the playground. This project could have never happened without the incredible amount of community support it has received.
What's the main reason for starting the garden?
We wanted to bring our diverse neighborhood together and gardening is a great way to make that happen.
This area is characterized as a "food desert" by the USDA. Can you explain that?
The 2008 Farm Bill defines a food desert as an area in the U.S. with limited access to affordable and nutritious food, particularly an area composed of predominantly lower-income neighborhoods. Within the boundaries of our neighborhood, there is no nearby grocery store, no source of fresh and healthy food. This is especially problematic for folks without a means of transportation. The closest food is available at a gas station. A significant percentage of the population in part of our neighborhood has income within the poverty level.