Local community gardening programs are growing a greener Dayton
By Valerie Beerbower
The air is getting warmer, the days are getting longer and green shoots are beginning to reach up through the soil, awakening after their winter sleep. Spring is almost here, and with that, gardeners everywhere get the itch to don their dirt-crusted gloves and start creating magnificent landscapes or vegetable beds. But for those who might not have access to yard space, or those whose grim houseplant mortality record includes cacti, this time of year tends to be more frustrating than fruitful.
Fear not city dwellers and those with “brown” thumbs, you can take advantage of an urban gardening program that has been helping turn eyesores into productive gardens for about 25 years. Grow With Your Neighbors (GWYN) offers plots in local community gardens and provides support to help beginner gardeners flourish.
Founded in 1986, this program helps those without garden space 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,” said GWYN Manager Luci Beachdell. “Today, the program is centrally managed at Wegerzyn Garden MetroPark and jointly sponsored by the City of Dayton, Wegerzyn Garden Center, Cox Arboretum MetroPark and the University of Dayton’s Strategies for Responsible Development Neighborhood Development office. 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.”
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 with an additional eight slated to open in 2011. So chances are, wherever you live, you’re close to a community garden.
Log on to metroparks.org/GWYN for details about the program and a downloadable map to find a garden near you. There are two large community gardens with hundreds of plots available in MetroPark facilities, one at Wegerzyn Gardens MetroPark (1301 E. Siebenthaler Ave.) and one at Possum Creek MetroPark (4790 Frytown Road, Dayton). Call (937) 276-7053 to reserve your plot.
The idea behind sustainability is that people can become self-reliant and require fewer commercially produced items. Growing your own vegetables and herbs is a great way to accomplish this and one of the goals of GWYN is to help newbie gardeners cultivate successfully. The program has built-in support of managers and volunteers willing to lend their time and talents to assist the horticulturally-impaired. “We love to help new gardeners get started,” Beachdell said. “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. Visit metroparks.org/gardening or flip to the gardening and landscaping section of the latest issue of ParkWays for this season’s programming offerings.
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 said.
If you’d like more information about GWYN and community gardening, visit the website metroparks.org/GWYN or contact Luci Beachdell at (937) 276-7053. Enjoy a life more delicious, nutritious and sustainable while beautifying your neighborhood and developing a greater sense of community with Grow With Your Neighbors!
Reach DCP freelance writer Valerie Beerbower at firstname.lastname@example.org.