(Editor’s note: this story originally appeared in the Akron Area Eutopia Report)
“Gardening is cheaper than therapy… and I might even get tomatoes.”
“Gardening requires lots of water…most of it in the form of perspiration.”
“Why try to explain miracles to your kids when you can just have them plant a garden here this summer?”
These are just a few of the things I heard in my community garden over opening weekend. It told me a lot about the people involved and the expectations of what the new Glendale Community Garden means to this community.
Bringing all kinds of people together
Jan Green, Karen Edwards, Karen Starr and I spent a couple of cold, and blustery early spring afternoons canvassing the lower part of our West Hill neighborhood with flyers.
Jan Green is a new resident of West Hill, and a retired nurse who grew up farming.
Karen Edwards is a mom who owns some rental property near the garden and is a Farm-to-School teacher at a nearby Akron public school.
Karen Starr is a mom, singer and local business owner of Hazeltree Interiors providing high quality home decor, interior design services and custom picture framing.
Connecting with the neighborhood
“It’s about time we see something like this happening here,” said one of a few folks in the neighborhood who actually answered our knocks at their door. “It’s a long time coming miracle for this forgotten area, that’s for sure.”
The Glendale Community Garden includes 18 family plots, a berry patch, herbal spiral, twin compost bins, a trio of rain barrels, ornamental Zen zone and more.
So far it’s proven to be a miracle of sorts for the neighborhood. It’s raising eyebrows, connecting area businesses and changing strangers into neighbors.
Where else can retired grandmothers, Girl Scouts, I.T. nerds, firemen, soccer moms, hipsters, Gen-Xers, rappers and bohemians share a few laughs and get down and dirty together?
What was once a cut-across vacant lot and occasional parking lot full of scraggly grass and gravel on Walnut Street next to the famous historic Glendale Steps (an abandoned WPA project from the depression era) is now a green urban oasis where pedestrians stop to relax, observe and smile a little.
It all started a few months ago with permission granted from the vacant lot’s landowner, and seed money from NeighborFoods, a newly-formed organization overseeing the new crop of community gardens popping up by the dozens around Akron.
A Facebook page went up, attracting local gardening participants, and initial planning meetings were held at Pure Intentions: The Wheatgrass Growers, hosted by owner Kathy Evans.
Landscaper and neighborhood resident Jeff Copley worked the sod cutter prepping the 18 plots.
Then, it was time for the garden’s Opening Weekend, May 9 through 11. It started with the arrival of the Keep Akron Beautiful Community Pride Trailer laden with garden tools and equipment.
Canton Road Garden Center followed by dumping more than 200 donated bags of Pro-Mix soil additive. Then, chilling rains blew in, postponing the tilling until the next day.
When the sun came out the next morning, more than 20 volunteers gathered to take on the dirty work, removing countless rolls of sod, tilling and cultivating the 18- by 10- by 15-foot plots and adding Pro-Mix and compost.
Pat Arnold, the Pro-Mix soil rep, was on hand to instruct the gardeners on how to work Pro-Mix into the soil in addition to offering other valuable gardening tips.
That afternoon, firemen from Fire Station No. 3 arrived with rain barrels, turned on their water hoses to fill the barrels and helped heave the sod rolls into the haul-away truck.
Everyone chips in
The owners of the 512 Fire Grill food truck who live across the street, fed hungry volunteers an authentic Puerto Rican-style lunch of empanadillas and alcapurrias, and provided lots of ice water.
Urban farmer Alex Miller put up a twin pair of compost bins and Lisa Nunn, director of Let’s Grow Akron, offered moral support, gardening guidance, got the nearby fire hydrant tapped and leant a colorful sign to welcome visitors and gardeners alike.
Mary Dee, from Asian Services in Action, arrived just in time to welcome three new immigrant families from Nepal who came with mustard seeds to plant. By the end of the day, all 18 plots were tilled, claimed and some even got planted.
In the coming days, the Girl Scouts prepped the berry patch, bricks were laid for a community herb spiral, a group squash and melon field was started and ornamental flowerbeds guarded the entrance.
It was all good.
Just the beginning
Soon, St. Vincent-St. Mary’s 3rd and 4th graders will “grow a row for the hungry” by donating their produce to the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank. Come harvest time, the Salvation Army will open its kitchen and meeting space for food prep and preservation classes.
The Glendale Community Garden is a grand new experiment for this long neglected neighborhood. In a few short weeks it’s already becoming a neighborhood miracle, joining a growing movement of more than 5,000 community gardens in the U.S., according to the American Community Garden Association.
“A garden can be more than just a place to stop and smell the roses,” says Steve Brooks, co-author of “Green Guerillas: Revitalizing New York’s Urban Neighborhoods with Community Gardens.” He adds, “All it takes is a small group of gardeners, who at the right place at the right time, motivated by ‘green,’ will set a whole bunch of stuff in motion. Its spin-off effects can tip a neighborhood and bring an entire blighted area out of a cycle of indifference and decay.”
Created out of organized chaos and tended by a lot of love and kinship, I have to believe our new Glendale Community Garden will do just that.
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Tom Crain is a dad and freelance tech writer/marketing communications specialist. He is a regular contributing writer for landscaping publications. He has managed community gardens in the city of Akron and taught farm-to-school curriculum for inner city public schools. He is also a community organizer and sustainability advocate.