Community Gardens Nourish Neighborhoods

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Partly because of the recession, partly out of a desire to eat healthy, community gardens are popping up all around Central Ohio. The gardens help stock food pantries and bring neighbors together.

53 year old Faye Glenn was one of a dozen members of United Methodist Church for all People shoveling top soil for the new garden in a vacant lot on Wager Street. The south side lot was donated to the church. Glenn says she’s never gardened before, but wanted to give back.

“I didn’t think I had the patience for one. I can never grow anything. I can’t even grow a plant in the house, but to see something grow and being a part of it woo I want to see,” said Glenn.

Glenn looks forward to the fresh produce she’ll bring home for her family.

“Have you seen the cost of tomatoes, cucumbers, and stuff like that. I’m even going to buy some seeds,” said Glenn.

Church and community worker, Margaret Madison says there is a plan to make the most of the large lot.

“We’re even going to try a little corn in the back. We want to teach the children the three sisters way of planting you know with the corn in the center with the green beans growing around and having squash at the bottom to cover the root structure for economizing space, but also teaching them something about the earth,” Madison said.

The church has been getting advice from Franklin Park Conservatory’s Growing to Green Program that started in 2000. The program suggests what plants grow and how to help them thrive. In the inner city, that means planting gardens in containers on top of the ground rather than digging up the lots which may have contaminated soil.

At the Conservatory, new above ground gardening beds are getting attention. “Those are sweet peas over there. Here’s where we planted the squash. Over there is where we’ve got the brussel sprouts and there’s where we’ve got the cucumbers.”

Tim Murphy, a 49 year old army vet cares for a garden with a group of 20 veterans. Murphy who suffers with mental health problems was homeless for more than a decade. Now he has an apartment and looks forward to spending time with other vets at the garden.

“It makes me, makes me less secluded. It helps me out with trusting people more and its great therapy,” said Murphy.

Nearby sat 40 year old Tonya Reyes, an Iraq war vet. She was diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder and is on medical leave from her job.

“What do you think about this experience? You’re going to be coming out every week then? Yes, I’m going to come out every week. It’s therapeutic to be outside, be amongst people, the camaraderie,” Reyes said.

Coordinator of the Growing to Green program, Bill Dawson says building tall garden boxes makes it easier for veterans with disabilities to participate.

“So the very first day they came out to garden in this new space, every single veteran that was here was standing around that plot gardening. So right there showed me huge success just by enabling,” said Dawson.

Dawson adds over the past 10 years, 200 community gardens have bloomed. The gardens not only build community, but they give back. Much of the harvest of fresh vegetables goes to food pantries.

“If you’ve ever gardened, you know in July and August, you’ve got too many tomatoes you’ve got too much of this. And you want to share and people tend to share with their neighbors, take it down to the food pantry or the food bank and so when you start out the program with that in mind then you’re growing an extra row or an extra bed,” added Dawson.

That’s one reason why the Growing to Green program now includes canning and freezing classes at the main center at Franklin Park to teach gardeners how to preserve the bounty of their labor.

Back at the Wager Street garden, Church Pastor Reverend John Edgar says the garden can also preserve neighborhoods.

“Our goal is to help have a better neighborhood by drawing all the folks together for common purposes so people will get over any kinds of residual fear or anxiety if I don’t know my neighbors than maybe I should be afraid of them and really it’s the other way around, getting people to work together,” said Edgar.

Work will continue throughout the summer with neighbors learning how much a garden can change a community for the better.

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