Community Food Project Highlight Series: Ruff’ton Roots Community Garden

Ruff’ton Roots is a new community garden in Rutherfordton dedicating to serving and strengthening the local community. Read on to learn about how the garden got started, what’s on tap as they take on their second year of production, and ways to get involved.

Tucked away near the hospital, there’s a movement growing in Rutherfordton, in the form of Ruff’ton Roots community garden

Now entering its second year of production, the garden’s mission is to “grow healthy food, healthy people, and healthy communities in Rutherfordton and beyond”. Produce is grown by volunteer community members and donated to local food relief organizations.

The garden’s development has been spearheaded by Rutherfordton Community Development Director, Magnolia Long and Technical Garden Advisor, Lindy Abrams. The two connected over their shared interest in bringing a community garden to Rutherfordton, and created a presentation to pitch the idea to the Town Council. Abrams’ background in agriculture and greenhouse management, combined with Long’s expertise as a Lead for NC Fellow, made them the perfect team. They gave their presentation to the Town Council in January of 2021. “We got the green light”, says Abrams, and “we got to work”. 

Lindy Abrams at the garden

With approval in hand, they secured a site near the hospital, in the field next to St. Luke’s Chapel, and promoted the garden widely. They also held a community interest meeting to brainstorm and build awareness and support, during which it became apparent just how much “people power” the Rutherfordton community had to offer. Through an asset-mapping activity designed to help teams determine all the talent in the room, they learned that among those present, there was a Facebook employee with expertise in marketing and promotion, a landscaper, and a massage therapist with widespread community ties. “Everyone had something to offer”, says Abrams. Along the way, Abrams and Long also got connected with Hannah Bundy and Tracy Davis of Rutherford County Cooperative Extension, who had existing relationships with food pantries, and who could provide guidance on how to best address local food and hunger needs. By putting community engagement first, and working to build relationships across Rutherfordton, Abrams says that she, and the garden, aim to “stand on the shoulders of people who have done this work for a long time”. 

While the garden was designed with feeding hungry people in mind, it also came at an opportune moment in history. In the thick of the COVID-19 pandemic, the garden provided a way for neighbors to connect safely outdoors, give back to their community, and for many, learn a new skill. Says Abrams, it’s been a “great way to get some socializing in and do some good”. 

Now, almost a year and a half in, the garden has developed a vibrant and dedicated team of volunteers, and community relationships remain at the center of it all. Together, they’ve planted and maintained a mixed vegetable garden and a potato field, and this spring brings tidings of expansion, as well as a new addition – volunteers are busy developing a new educational garden space. The educational garden will be organized into concentric circles, with herbs, tropical plants, and other “oddities”, to help spark conversation and learning. Delivering a high-quality volunteer experience is a top priority for Abrams. “My number one goal”, she says, “is that anyone who leaves after a day at Ruff’ton Roots is 100% satisfied that that’s how they chose to spend their time”. 

“Every time we get together, it’s an accomplishment. It’s all about the people that are coming week after week, and spending their time with us. It’s all about the community”.

Lindy Abrams, Ruff’ton Roots Technical Garden Advisor

For interested Rutherfordton-area folks, there are lots of ways to get involved with Ruff’ton Roots. In April and May, join in the fun on Saturday planting days – bring the whole family! Throughout the year, contribute to garden maintenance work sessions on weekdays, to keep the garden running smoothly by weeding, preparing beds, mulching, installing irrigation, and more. Or consider volunteering on a harvest day, to help wash, pack, and chill produce and distribute it to local food pantries. Another fantastic way to support the garden is to help spread the word: join the Ruff’ton Roots community Facebook group, attend a garden event, or tell a friend about the garden. Those interested in contributing financially can do so via check written to the Town of Rutherfordton, with Ruff’ton Roots written in the memo line, or by contacting to learn more about corporate sponsorship opportunities. Ruff’ton Roots is engaged with the Rutherford County Food Council. Visit the Council’s website to learn more and to engage with Ruff’ton Roots and similar community-led food system projects. 

To stay in the know about all volunteer opportunities, subscribe to the garden’s monthly newsletter, and follow the garden on Facebook

There’s a bright future ahead for Ruff’ton Roots, thanks to the dedication of hard-working community members. Says Abrams, “every time we get together, it’s an accomplishment. It’s all about the people that are coming week after week, and spending their time with us. It’s all about the community”. We are so grateful to all of the leaders and volunteers who have worked so hard to create this wonderful space for our community. 

Direct questions about Ruff’ton Roots to Rutherfordton Community Development Director Magnolia Long

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