Anyone who passes the Randolph County Homeless Shelter in south Elkins can be greeted by a beautiful garden featuring blooming flowers, and plots that include corn, green beans, radishes, strawberries, squash, zucchini and other plants. Not too long ago, this spot was just a vacant lot.
This bountiful new community garden grew from tons of hard work from many residents and the dream and ideas of a new resident in town.
Pete Houghton and his wife moved to Elkins because they wanted to start a family and remain in one place.
The Inter-Mountain photo by Beth Christian Broschart
Cindy Hamrick, left, director of the Randolph County Homeless Shelter, said Pete Houghton’s idea for a community garden was a great addition to the formerly empty spot of land.
"The mountains attracted us to the Elkins area," Houghton said. "We had very little money, and what we did own, we could carry on our backs. We walked to Elkins from Buckhannon."
Houghton said they stopped at a small restaurant on Davis Avenue, where he secured employment doing odd jobs. After living in a tent, Houghton and his wife moved to the Randolph County Homeless Shelter next to the restaurant for a few months, working and saving money until they could afford to move into their own place.
"It is very hard to secure employment when you live in a tent and have no running water," Houghton said. "We really liked the area and decided this is where we wanted to live."
"When there is an issue and people get together, ideas come together and problems get solved."
Both Houghton and his wife had lived in Michigan and lost their jobs because of the downturn in the economy. From there they moved to Philadelphia, where they said they saw true poverty for those living in the inner city.
While the couple stayed at the shelter in Elkins, they each worked two jobs.
"We both worked so much because we had a goal to be out on our own," said Houghton, who now works full-time for the Randolph County Homeless Shelter.
One day, Houghton said he was working at the shelter and got the idea to use the vacant lot as a community garden. The space was in rough shape, but he had a goal.
"I was getting a late start on the garden, and I really wanted to get the plants in the ground," he said. "I started building the garden and was joined by many others to make this idea come to life."
Houghton said he wanted to use the garden to get people together and talking to one another.
"When there is an issue and people get together, ideas come together and problems get solved," Houghton said. "I want to bring this particular garden out to the sidewalk so that when folks go by and they see a squash or tomato, they will be able to pick it to use."
As Houghton began starting the garden's beds, he received help from Steve Kerns of Elkins/Randolph County Recycling and members of the Tygart Valley Youth Group.
"We helped remove the sod, cinder blocks and rocks from the lot to get it ready for the beds," Kerns said. "This was a great idea. It brought lots of people together to build a garden."
Kerns said the group worked about three weeks getting the lot ready. The Elkins Woman's Club donated $50 to the Tygart Valley Youth Group and they used that money to pay for five of the garden beds.
"This was good for everyone involved in the project," Kerns said. "Folks of all ages learned about gardening, and it brought the whole neighborhood together - from volunteers, to members of the homeless shelter and members of community groups."
About 200 people were involved with the creation of this garden, counting members of various community groups and those directly involved.
Kerns said yard waste collected from Elkins citizens was used to help fertilize the beds in the garden. Members of the youth group even planted one of the beds.
Houghton said he used clay from excavation work at Davis Memorial Hospital to create garden beds and used natural materials for compost.
"I grew up learning about gardening from my mother," Houghton said. "Lots of the plants in this garden were grown from seeds she had harvested from her garden."
Houghton said he practices organic gardening and said he thinks everyone has a place.
"I love the butterflies, ants, bees and worms," Houghton said. "They each have a place in my garden and serve a purpose. When I plant, I try to include something for each part of nature as well."
Houghton and his wife have been in the Elkins area for a little over a year, but his project has made a large impact.
"The garden helped raise money for the Randolph County Homeless Shelter," said shelter Director Cindy Hamrick. "It also helped get some of our clients talking with the neighbors. It was a great project."
This summer, the garden was named by the Emma Scott Garden Club as a community yard of the month. The club gives the award to yards that are attractive throughout the community.
Houghton said he thinks gardens of this type would be a good way to get more people out and talking with one another. He checked and found approximately 1,100 empty houses in Randolph County.
"A great number of these homes have yards where small community gardens could be started," Houghton said. "We all have to eat, and why not plant a garden to grow food for families and to share with those who do not have enough? ... It would be a great use of the land and give people the opportunity to gather and learn."