Q&A with Steve Graessle, Board President of Sugar Hill Community Garden

On June 26, 2021, the Sugar Hill Community Garden celebrated its 10-Year Anniversary. We sat down with its board president, Steve Graessle to learn more about the event, the garden’s history, and his vision for its future.

Q: Tell us about the 10th anniversary event, Steve.                                                                                              A: We had over 50 members and guests including the City Manager, Paul Radford, and Council Members. For the potluck lunch, members brought their favorite foods including some with ingredients from their personal garden plots. There was a coloring station and balloons for the kids. The event also marked the completion of our revitalization efforts that began in 2018. Finally, a plaque was unveiled to celebrate the garden’s 10-Year Anniversary and Re-Dedication.

The 2019-2021 Sugar Hill Community Garden Board Members and city officials who oversaw revitalization efforts. Left to right: Heather Ekstrom, Secretary; Paul Radford, City Manager; Kim Hulse, VP of Operations; Steve Graessle, President; George McIlvain, VP of Garden; Sandra Scott, VP of Services; Susie Walker, Councilwoman; Taylor Anderson, Councilman

Q: What are you most proud of when it comes to the garden?                                                                          A: We reached 100% full membership capacity over the last three years and completed revitalization efforts including the expansion and replacement of plots and completion of the pollination garden.

Q: Can you give us a brief history of the garden?                                                                                                  A: The garden was created in 2011 with very limited funding and only 17 original members. Initially started as a garden club, the name was changed to the Sugar Hill Community Garden and the first garden board was formed in 2012. In addition to the garden, the barn was also built in 2011 which included a weathervane and a stained-glass window from the Gardner family’s farmhouse.

Early gardening was done in various forms. Some people tilled the ground and farmed in traditional methods whereas others used varying sizes of raised garden plots. Over the next few years, a deer fence was added, an irrigation system was set up and the parking lot was paved. During this time, water was pumped from the nearby Richland Creek. Due to the filter constantly getting clogged up with silt from the creek, the city decided to convert to county water for a much more reliable source.

In 2018, due to low membership and overlooked maintenance, I joined the board and revitalization efforts began including a marketing campaign and clean-up efforts. Over the next four years, the board oversaw a complete makeover of the garden with the support of members and the city.  We resolved drainage issues, repaired the fence, fixed gates, and added a new gate, built a new tool rack, installed parking lot signs, and planted cherry trees to support the city’s Arbor Day.

In 2019, the garden reached full capacity for the first time and has remained that way through today. We even have a waiting list in 2021. The highlight of our revitalization efforts is the complete rebuilding and expansion of existing plots. The old, rotten frames were removed, and larger, taller frames were built to provide an increased utilization rate of 50% for the garden area. Furthermore, a beautiful pollination garden was built in 2020 and added to in 2021.

Pollination Garden Plot

Q: How does the garden add value to the Sugar Hill Community?                                                                  A: The garden adds so much to the Sugar Hill Community!  It’s a place of learning and sharing gardening ideas. It’s a place to teach our children where food comes from and how important bees, butterflies and other pollinators are to vegetable gardens. It’s also satisfying to grow your own vegetables and provide food on the table for your family.

Tomato Plant

Q: What makes the Sugar Hill Community Garden special?                                                                              A: I believe our garden is unique because we truly are a gardening community. Our diverse group looks out for each other when fellow members need help. Whether due to vacations, illness or injuries, our members are always helping each other whenever and however the need arises. We are such a welcoming community who not only say hello to our members, but also to guests who visit the garden. We love helping, sharing, and teaching our skills to everyone. Also, our members are very active in the upkeep and maintenance of the garden. I don’t think other gardens have our level of membership involvement. We have multiple sub-committees that focus on a variety of needs. For example, we have a committee that helps with the Gwinnett County Co-Op. Members donate items from the garden and then, committee members bring the fresh produce to the co-op to share with families in need.

Q: What is your vision for the garden in the coming years?                                                                              A: I hope in future years we bring more training and outreach programs. There’s always something new to learn and share. Also, I hope the garden continues to stay at full capacity.

Q: Is there anything else you would like to share?                                                                                            A: Yes, I’d like to add that as much as we love our members, none of this would be possible without Councilwoman Susie Walker first pitching the idea to the mayor and city council 10 years ago. Also, without the continued support from the mayor, council and staff, the garden would not be possible nor thriving like it is today. So, on behalf of all members, I’d like to give a huge thank you to the city and everyone that support us. And we’d like to re-dedicate this community garden to the City of Sugar Hill and its residents. I can’t wait to see where we are in another 10 years!

Community Garden Barn