If you’re a renter like me, you may look upon homeowners with envy for their ability to cultivate and grow their own fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs. Urbanites with a lack of available green space probably feel my pain, too. So what’s a veggie-loving city slicker/tenant to do? Grow With Your Neighbors.
This program, founded in 1986, helps those without land become more self-sufficient and promotes healthy lifestyles by providing space where patrons can grow their own food. “Originally called Dayton Urban Gardens, this movement emerged as a way to encourage creative use of vacant land, Brother Ed Zamierowski served as the first coordinator,” says GWYN Manager Luci Beachdell. ““Today, the program is centrally managed at Wegerzyn Garden MetroPark as a program of Five Rivers MetroParks. Our goal is to promote local, neighborhood development, especially in low-income areas, by turning vacant land into a resource for food production and neighborhood beautification. By establishing a network of neighborhood gardens, the program encourages the development of new gardens and offers assistance to existing ones.”
Eating local is a hot topic. Urban agriculture has exploded on the local scene, with 40 community gardens (including hundreds of plots at Wegerzyn Gardens and Possum Creek MetroParks) open in 2010 and another eight slated to open in 2011. So chances are, wherever you live, you’re close to a community garden. “But Val,” you might be saying, “I don’t exactly have the world’s greenest thumbs. I’m lucky if I can keep a cactus alive. How do you expect me to cultivate produce?” GWYN’s got you covered. The program has built-in support of managers and volunteers willing to lend their time and talents to assist the horticultural-impaired. “We love to help new gardeners get started,” Beachdell says. “From planning to tilling to building beds, we want to give gardeners the know-how they need to be successful and self-sustaining.” In addition to available free or at-cost gardening programs offered through Five Rivers MetroParks, there are also several community garden “road shows” in which MetroPark horticulture experts are on hand to answer questions.
It’s never too early to introduce kids to the concept of local foods. First Lady Michelle Obama is helping shine the spotlight on gardening and incorporating more fruits and vegetables in our diets, especially for children. The City Beets program operates out of Wegerzyn’s community garden to educate youth on gardening and leadership skills as they grow their own produce, then preserve or prepare their goods to be sold at the PNC 2nd Street Market. “We also work with schools interested in creating a school garden in the same ways that we work with new and existing gardens. We help them plan and prepare, and do some basic gardening run-throughs,” Beachdell says.
Another great benefit of community gardening is neighborhood improvement. In addition to the beautification of transforming a former vacant lot into an attractive and productive garden, GWYN gardeners frequently donate excess crops to local food pantries, giving the gift of good health to others.
Now that you’re out of excuses, put down the Cheetos and pick up a shovel. You, too, can become a gardener and live a life more nutritious and delicious. Contact Luci Beachdell if you’re interested in taking a plot in a community garden near you, or info on how to start a community garden in your neighborhood.