The Center for Children & Young Adults (CCYA) is dedicated to providing safe and suitable housing, youth development activities and comprehensive supportive housing services for at-risk homeless youth who have been abandoned, abused, neglected and or sexually exploited. For almost 20 years, the Master Gardener Volunteers of Cobb County have volunteered at CCYA. The purpose of our work is to provide fresh produce to feed youth and staff at CCYA.
What began as a single raised bed, where herbs and tulips were planted, has grown to a 1.5 acre succession of gardens that together, provide fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs to over 100 youth annually at CCYA.
The core garden area is the Veggie Patch; where carrots, green beans, cucumbers, peas, onions, squashes, spinach, cabbage, tomatoes, collards, peppers, cauliflower, broccoli and more are planted. Adjacent to the vegetable area is the herb garden, where an assortment of popular herbs and pollinator plants are grown. Nearby is an area called the Berry Patch, where blueberries, blackberries and raspberries are grown (44 pounds of blackberries one season!). The Hoop House is a year-round structure; where we grow peppers, tomatoes, cabbage, lettuce, collards, spinach and more. Watermelon, cantaloupe and corn are grown Melon Hill. The final piece of the garden area is “The Egg Plant”, a chicken coop where a flock of one dozen chickens reside. These feathered ladies provide more than five dozen eggs a week to our kitchen for scrambled eggs, frittatas and other dishes to nourish our kids. Lastly, coneflowers, asters, hydrangea and other colorful flowers border the campus, creating a beautiful and functional garden for residents, staff and volunteers to enjoy year-round.
Master Gardeners volunteer weekly in the garden. Besides our help, grant money pays for a part-time garden manager who tends to the chickens and works in the garden under our supervision. Quarterly, a large group of corporate volunteers come to campus to spend the day assisting with larger garden projects. They help cut down trees, dig ditches, put up fencing, prune shrubbery, build sheds and more. Some youth at CCYA apprentice in the garden and are paid a stipend for their help. Master Gardeners primarily work independently from resident youth on campus as they are very busy with school, after-school jobs, therapy sessions, tutoring and homework.
The garden receives funding from the Captain Planet Foundation, Food Well Alliance, Master Gardeners of Georgia, Master Gardener Volunteers of Cobb County and numerous other grantors. Private donors have funded the irrigation system, major equipment such as a lawnmower/tractor, and the construction of the chicken coop. Funding for electricity to the Hoop House and Chicken Coop is being sought in 2021.
Our efforts are year-round. In winter we begin to propagate seeds, in spring we plant and weed, in summer we harvest (and weed) and fall we plant and harvest fall vegetables (and weed) and prepare for winter. In 2020, we established a Vegetable Stand to help provide fresh herbs and produce to neighbors in need. Plans for 2021 include establishing a cut flower garden to add color and beauty to the Vegetable Stand.
The CCYA gardens have been recognized as a special place. We were part of the 2019 Cobb County Master Gardeners Garden Tour. The CCYA garden program was presented to the National Children and Youth Garden Symposium in California several years ago. The garden was also the scene of a luncheon for 200 people in 2014 with former Georgia First Lady Sandra Deal and dignitaries from the Georgia Department of Agriculture.
The gardens at CCYA are an oasis of beauty and tranquility that also provide a fresh source of fresh fruit and vegetables to hundreds of teenagers each year.