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NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) -- At the corner of Allen Street and West 54th Street in North Little Rock, several wooden boxes sit atop the ground full of dirt and compost, some with vegetation from a fall planting and others bare.

Volunteers at the Grow Levy Community Garden are preparing for spring, and leaders Lora Matthey-Hicks and Adam Hicks took a break from working the ground and overseeing the garden to explain exactly how a community garden works.

"The rules here are probably very similar to other gardens in the area," said Adam.

Gardeners have individual plots that they lease for a small fee and are in charge of planting, watering, and caring for the plants that they choose to grow. They are not allowed to do harm to the plots, so no pesticides are allowed, and fertilizers must be approved.

After the vegetables, fruits, or herbs have grown, gardeners can take them home to eat, and the surplus is shared with the surrounding community. Sometimes the surplus is given to food banks or sold to local restaurants.

"Most of the gardeners are neighbors, and others come from Park Hill," said Lora.

At Grow Levy, all walks of life participate in gardening. Young couples, single parents, retirees, and grandparents and grandchildren come out to give each of their plants special care and enjoy the sun. Lora and Adam said several of the gardeners are in their early 30s, and all of them bring something different to the table.

The man they call the "Expert Gardener" is Paul Shell. They said he offers advice to all the newcomers who ask about everything from what kind of fertilizers would work best with their plants to different techniques they can use to make their crop flourish. Adam said most gardens do have a volunteer of Shell's expertise.

As far as when everyone comes to the garden to care for their plants, Lora said many just come in whenever they need to check up on their plot and pitch in where they're needed. Sometimes the garden has a set day on the weekends to take care of bigger projects, and Garden Corp members from North Little Rock's Fit2Live program come in to provide extra manpower from time to time.

All major decisions, such as the need to build a shed, are made by the group as whole; smaller needs, like a buying a new water hose, are just taken care of as people see fit.

Lora calls the garden her "dirt therapy," and Adam said gardening is even great exercise. They both enjoy that gardening is a no-rush process; they just have to go through the steps and wait for their work to show. They said it's an escape from all the business and hassle of the city, and it's a great way to take a break from a lifestyle of being online.

In fact, according to the University of Michigan, horticulture provides benefits on many levels, including stress relief, emotional well-being, improving hand-eye coordination and range of motion, and increasing endurance. U of M's study indicated that being able to create and control your own environment can be empowering and stimulate all the senses people use, resulting in a sense of satisfaction and the feeling of success.

Before Grow Levy, Adam said he also helped start the Argenta Veggie Garden on Maple Street in 2011. He said he and his friends just wanted to start a sustainable process where the unsustainable was.

He admitted that at the time they didn't have experience with starting a non-profit, but were able to find a way, through advice and help from others who had gone through the process before.

He added that both Grow Levy and the Argenta Veggie Garden started out as gravel and weed pits, but they have quickly evolved into something beautiful, which not only helps bring neighbors in the surrounding area together but also raises the value of their homes.

While those interested in community gardening might not be close to Grow Levy, several gardens have been established in Jacksonville, North Little Rock and Little Rock. And, more are in development. To participate, all you have to do is contact a community garden near you for more information.

If you are interested in starting a community garden of your own in North Little Rock, you can find the information on how to do so below at www.nlrfit2live.org.

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