ALLEGANY COUNTY, Md. — The Western Maryland Health System started a new initiative aimed to improve community access to fresh fruits and vegetables.

According to the Health System‘s Vice President of Operations, Jo Wilson, Allegany County is the poorest county in one of the richest states.

“A lot of issues arrives from that and basically, people can’t afford to have fresh fruits and vegetables,” Wilson said. 

The Williams Street Community Garden is new this year and Wilson said the main goal is to provide fresh fruit and vegetables to those who might not have easy access to a garden themselves.

Wilson said the garden holds 25 different plots, each measuring 10 feet by 5 feet and it gives the gardener a chance to grow any fruit or vegetable of their choice.

Each plot is $10, but the gardener gets $5 back at the end of the season. 

The Health System’s Manager for Food and Nutrition Services, Tara Hartsock, said it’s great seeing everyone come together and maintain their plot so well. 

“Sharing their stories in their produce, it’s been great,” Hartsock said.  “Get together and plant and going each day, taking care of one another’s garden, just seeing that interaction between people, it’s really helped us spread the word in this small community.”

Hartsock said the waiting list for next year is growing. 

Both Wilson and Hartsock said they couldn’t have made the garden possible with several of the local businesses pitching in and donating supplies like University of Maryland Extension, Lowe’s Home Improvement, Eby’s Landscape Center, City of Cumberland and Western Maryland Correctional Institution. 

In fact, each gardener is able to get assistance from a master gardener – get free “Grow It, Eat It” classes offered by the University of Maryland Extension.

Plus, the city of Cumberland is donating three playgrounds to the Health System to convert into additional community gardens.

Wilson said the Williams Street Community Garden will be seasonal and will go until December of this year. 

Since the May 15 start date, Wilson and Hartsock said the garden has flourished.