City Farm in the news!!
Church’s urban gardens yield more than vegetables
Friday, March 17, 2006
Dennis M . Mahoney
THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH
Old First Presbyterian Church isn’t what it used to be.
Founded in 1806, the congregation built its current church in 1907 on Bryden Road on the Near East Side. It had 650 members then, and farmland was all around.
Now, only about 15 people worship on a typical Sunday, and houses surround the church.
But the small congregation believes that today’s urban world doesn’t have to be a wasteland of steel and concrete, and it is doing something about it.
Through the church’s Four Seasons City Farms Project, tomatoes, peppers, kale, collards, carrots, eggplant, beets, lettuce, spinach, turnips, beans and a range of flowers are springing up in vacant lots around the area. It’s all grown organically.
Daniel Ingwersen, a church member nicknamed the "minister of agriculture" for helping to lead the community garden effort, said seeing vacant lots come to life creates hope for residents.
"Our goal is to transform the whole urban landscape," he said. "Not just on a visual level, but the way people come together in community, which is what church is all about."
The garden project began in 2003 on a church-owned lot next door, with help from some seed money, including $350 from the church. What is known as the Garden of Communion was designed by member Susan Weber.
Since then, Four Seasons has grown to include seven gardens in the Near East Side area, most on vacant lots rented from the city of Columbus. It also has a plot at Church of the Redeemer Moravian Church in Dublin.
Those who work the gardens share in the crops, and some are sold at seasonal markets in Clintonville and Bexley. Money generated is poured back into the program, including paying a few people for their work.
Some of the produce is enjoyed by church members and area residents at monthly potlucks and at the church’s annual Thanksgiving dinner. A portion also is donated to food banks and other social concerns, such as Rebecca’s Place, a women’s shelter, Weber said.
Recently, Ingwersen received a "Give Back To Grow" award as national urban gardener of the year from the Scotts Miracle-Gro Co. for the Four Seasons project.
Four Seasons has been funded with several grants, including money from Scotts. But, Ingwersen said, the aim is to become self-sustaining.
Christopher Appel, a member who lives near Old First, said a long-term goal of Four Seasons is to establish gardens and hand them over to others in the area to tend. For instance, one family will be taking over a garden next door to its home, he said.
"The excitement about having something that you can call your own, and invest in and watch it grow and change and transform, I think really gets to the root of what really builds community from the inside out," Appel said.
"It’s like a baby that is starting to grow up a little bit."
Weber said another emphasis of the program is teaching people about healthy eating.
"There aren’t very many grocery stores in this neighbohoood, and a lot of the people don’t have cars," she said. "And so the opportunities for food are the convenience stores that don’t carry produce."
Weber said interest in the gardens comes slowly with neighbors. One reason is that many residents rent their homes and are transient; another is that some know little of gardening.
"Grandparents know because a lot of them are from somewhat of an agricultural background, or had parents who were farmers," she said.
"In the middle generation, sort of the 30s to the 50s, is the one where there hasn’t been any context of agriculture in their lives at all. And so there’s just sort of a blank."
Children who have worked in the gardens or attended potlucks have grown to like eating the vegetables, even the edible weeds.
"One of the things that struck me the most last summer was all these kids who will tell you, swear to you, they ate vegetables, and realizing that they’d never actually eaten vegetables before," said Suzanne Hayes, the church’s lay pastor.
"The quality is so different from the things that they’re able to get and that we’re able to grow. It’s just so much better that they realize, ‘Oh, wow, we do like vegetables.’ "
Member Billie Barkley said she didn’t think she could bring herself to eat some of the organic fare at the church’s potlucks, which included flowers such as vitamin-C-rich nasturtiums.
"But then after awhile, I started eating that stuff," Barkley said. "Susan (Weber) introduced dishes, and they were delicious. And you find out that it’s good for you.
"And those nasturtiums. I’d never eaten nasturtiums. And so I think it’s been an education for all of us, a real education. It’s been a blessing to have that garden."