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Seniors growing vegetables, herbs for meals at center

Fleta Moore waters the tomato plants at the Olivia Haydel Senoir Center in Conyers.

Fleta Moore waters the tomato plants at the Olivia Haydel Senoir Center in Conyers.

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Joy Johnson examines the radishes, marjoram, and basil in the newly established vegetable garden at the senior center.

On a recent breezy, sunny May morning Fleta Moore waters the garden at the Olivia Haydel Senior Center, while Joy Johnson checks on the health of the plants. The women comprise one of several teams of seniors from the Dirt Dabblers group enlisted to tend the newly established vegetable garden at the Conyers senior center.

The women take pride in their work and look forward to the results.

"It's really very nice to go out and see. It gives me peace and joy to know that I've planted this," said Johnson, a senior center member for three years.

"It's like a child -- plant it and grow it and watch it blossom."

Obtained with a $1,000 grant from the Atlanta Regional Commission and planted by senior center members in mid-April, the garden features radishes, peppers, tomatoes, bush beans, lettuce, squash and onions. Herbs including thyme, chives, rosemary, marjoram, oregano, sage, mint, dill, basil and parsley round out the garden.

Jackie Lunsford, deputy director of recreation and senior services for Rockdale County, said cooks at the senior center will use the herbs to enhance the flavor of meals served at the center, and the fresh vegetables will also find their way onto the seniors' plates.

"We thought it would be great to have fresh vegetables in our salad bar," Lunsford said.

The garden, situated behind the senior center in an area that gets at least eight hours of sun per day, is planted in four raised beds -- two 2-foot long boxes and two 8-foot long boxes -- which allow the plants to sit about 2 -1/2 feet off the ground. The plants are at a height easily accessible for the seniors, including those who use wheelchairs.

"It's compact and easy to manage," said Lunsford, who explained that under the top layer of top soil, Miracle Grown and garden soil, is a combination of mulch and soil, and under that is crushed rock on the bottom layer.

Johnson said at home she plants some vegetables around the house, and she is anxious to sample the fruits of her labor in this garden.

"Nothing tastes better than a homegrown tomato," Johnson said.

Moore, Johnson's partner, said she is a native Floridian and didn't do much vegetable gardening before the senior center endeavor.

"This is my first time with the vegetables. I was hesitant, I'd never done it before but since I've been here I've been learning a lot," she said.