Growing Strong—Starting Our Community Garden

Published on 2011-12-06 in GeneralGarden News

The Idea Gets Planted

Like many great ideas, the Grant Beach Community Garden stems from an unexpected source. What would become a community-wide effort (and will become a city-wide movement) all started because a beautiful gray kitten in a rhinestone collar wandered from its home. Rescuing this precious, little animal from a vine-entangled tree led to a much needed wakeup call that soon changed my life. Traveling house to house, hoping someone would claim the kitten began a 4-year journey to give something back to the place I call home.

My neighborhood is a small yet diverse, working-class, inner-city enclave. It’s a place where small businesses operate and folks still sit on their front porches. In other words, it's a nice place to live. At that point, the national economy was just beginning its downward spiral, and I knew things were getting bad. However, it hadn't yet occurred to me that my neighborhood was so directly impacted. Knocking on doors to find the kitten's home proved to be a lesson in just how hard times had gotten. I heard the same story again and again: “Oh, how beautiful. No she's not mine. I'd love to have her, but I can't afford a pet right now.”

The recently closed factories meant lost jobs, and my neighbors were only able to find part-time work at best. Most were taking two and three jobs at minimum wage, with no benefits, trying to piece together a living. I spent a very restless night asking what could I do to help and finally came to the conclusion that I had one very useful skill to offer: I knew how to raise healthy, money-saving food.

The Idea Sprouts Support

Growing up in the 1950s, a large garden was a part of nearly every home. Neighbors traded seeds, vegetables, and gardening tips over backyard fences. Canning was a summer ritual, and everyone—including the smallest child—had a hand in helping. I fell in love with gardening when I was a kid and eventually studied the art to become a member of the Master Gardeners.

I've since continued my education in gardening, learning the best ways to grow community gardens. I took that skill and started talking to anyone who would listen: the neighbors, neighborhood association, city, the park board, and anyone else who would lend an ear. Through Well Fed Neighbor and the 1000 Gardens Project, I also had a network of wonderful people who I knew would want to help. True to form, people in the area really propelled the Grant Beach Garden idea. It took some time, but one night at a neighborhood association board meeting, Springfield Park Board Director Jody Adams quietly told me that the two empty lots next to The Hovey House—the Grant Beach Association’s Center—could be developed into a community garden.

The Garden Becomes A Reality

Six months later, I received a telephone call that would put the Grant Beach Garden on track and would help make the garden a reality. Maile Auterson, a planning student at Missouri State University at the time, was looking for a project, and the neighborhood was lucky to get Maile on board. With a partnership of the Park Board, City of Springfield Planning Department, and the Grant Beach Neighborhood Association, the garden finally started to take shape.

Thanks to wonderful neighbors like Darlene Steele, Cami Dillenger, Ken Bash, and others, an advisory board was put together. An Urban 4-H group—which the students named Beach Club 4-H—has taken form and has already produced pizza gardens, in temporary beds and a horrible growing season I might add. From seed to table, the kids' own herbs, tomatoes, peppers, and some cucumbers produced a wonderful pizza party for the neighborhood.

Today, with funds from the city for infrastructure, we're prepared to plant the garden's first crop in spring 2012. The planting party will mark the happy finish to the first leg of what will be a long, fruitful journey.

The Movement Grows

Want to get involved with Springfield Community Gardens? Look for us on Facebook and Twitter, and keep up with our progress here on our website.

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