With a few swipes of a hand shovel, 6-year-old Emmanuel Anderson dug a hole and gently placed a lettuce plant into the soil.
"Dad, I planted!" Emmanuel called out, glancing up at his father, Lem Anderson.
It was a new experience for the father-and-son duo, but the Andersons and a few dozen rookie gardeners hope they've started something that will grow.
Sixty volunteers from Rock Hill community groups and Winthrop University turned out on a warm Saturday afternoon to prepare a community vegetable garden off Oakland Avenue - a pilot program that may eventually be replicated across the city.
The 13 beds could produce up to 300 pounds of vegetables over the growing season, said Paul Thompson, a horticulture agent with the Clemson Extension Service.
Just as important, a new generation will learn the value of backyard gardening in a world where mega-farms ship vegetables an average of 2,500 miles to be sold.
"It's a skill that needs to continue to be passed down," said Thompson.
Groups will return to tend rows of carrots, potatoes, spring onions, spinach and broccoli.
There are also herbs such as rosemary and oregano.
Surplus produce can be donated to area soup kitchens.
"Ultimately, we'd like to see these community gardens branch out into the neighborhoods," said Mike Kropp of the city's neighborhood empowerment office.
Organizers did not want to reveal the exact location of the garden to ward against pillagers.
A $2,000 grant paid for shovels, cinderblocks and compost.
Tips from Master Gardeners
Young gardeners used newspapers, laying them in the ground to block weeds - just one of the pointers they got from Rolf Mischker of the York County Master Gardeners, a group helping to lead the effort.
"It's an experience," said Shaniqua Butler, a Winthrop junior in the Sigma Gamma Rho sorority.
"The only thing I ever did was pull weeds."
"I didn't know it was this much work," added Elissa McPhail, a senior sorority member at Winthrop.
The garden fits into a healthy eating initiative promoted by first lady Michelle Obama, who planted vegetables on the White House lawn to bring attention to the cause.
"I don't know if it's going to be as nice as hers," said Angelo Geter of the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity. "She probably has more help."
Locally, Oakland Avenue Presbyterian Church has had success with its vegetable garden.
Preparations for a community garden started in October when cinderblocks were placed in long, narrow sections, said Liz Hille of the York County Master Gardeners.
The garden came to life Saturday as volunteers sifted dirt, pulled weeds and put rows of plants in the soil.
"This is the hardest part of the job, what they're doing today," Hille said. "Once they see things growing, they're going to see it's attainable."