Community Garden Sets the Pace

Operation Blessing International (OBI), the international charity based in Virginia Beach, has partnered with Bon Secours Health System and upgraded the community garden in East Ocean View, adding a hydroponic garden that is not only providing fresh vegetables, a source of healthier nutrition in a low income area, but also contributing a nice visual appeal to the neighborhood. Bill Horan, President, Operation Blessing International, and Steve Zollos, Executive Director, Healthy Communities, Bon Secours Health System made the announcement today.

The East Ocean View Community Garden has set a new standard of excellence for community gardens. Working with Bon Secours Health System, Operation Blessing International, Home Depot, the City of Norfolk, and the Master Gardeners of Norfolk, an empty lot has been transformed into a beautiful and productive community garden.

Introducing Hydroponics
The hydroponic garden, located at the corner of 18 Bay & Pleasant Ave., is a scalable, relatively self-sustaining re-circulating system that grows plants in nutrient-rich water, without soil. This method allows plants to uptake nutrients with very little effort as opposed to soil where the roots must search out the nutrients and extract them. As a result, hydroponic systems deliver much faster growth and much greater yields – up to 10 times as much – all in a cost-effective manner. The garden even uses solar energy to operate the small pumps required to circulate the water through the system.

OBI and Bon Secours provided all materials and labor for the installation of the water system, a paved path, a shed, fence, the seeds, and solar panels to power the air and water pumps. Both organizations are providing ongoing operational assistance, maintenance, and training.

Square Foot Gardening
In addition to having a hydroponics system, 15 square foot gardens have been developed and adopted by residents of the community. “Square Foot Gardening” was developed by Mel Bartholomew in 1976. It provides a simple, fun way to grow all the vegetables (or flowers) you need in a small, easily maintained area. You never have to till the soil, or wonder where each plan should go because your garden is divided into square feet that are easy to plant and maintain.

The hydroponic garden at East Ocean View was constructed and planted in June and is capable of growing up to 80 plants at the same time. It is currently producing tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, basil, beans, and assorted flowers. Once picked, the produce is put into a community box and neighborhood residents are welcome to take what they need.

About the Project
The hydroponic garden in East Ocean View is a pilot project for Operation Blessing International and Bon Secours. Operation Blessing is currently developing a Hydroponics Program to build healthier communities throughout the world by empowering local residents to grow their own fruits and vegetables to add health and nutrition to their diets.

Bill Horan said, “In under-served urban areas, community gardens such as this can provide not only nourishing food but also gathering places, visual beauty, and a source of pride within the community.”

Steve Zollos said, “The garden that Bon Secours helped start here last year has already made a big impact in the community. We’re excited to partner with Operation Blessing to take it to the next level and provide even more nutritious food that otherwise might be out of reach to local residents.”

Why not take a trip out to the beach in East Ocean View and take a moment to see the gardens. Be inspired; it’s worth the trip!

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