Growing a community

Local children plant a community garden in their neighborhood. Local children plant a community garden in their neighborhood.

Bring beauty to your neighborhood all year long with community gardens

By Valerie Beerbower

Local children plant a community garden in their neighborhood.

Urban Nights is a great opportunity to check out Dayton’s thriving downtown nightlife. But when the bands pack up their instruments, the jugglers shelf their household objects and the street art chalk has been reduced to a gritty nub, what’s left the rest of the year? You can bring a slice of urban vibrancy to your neighborhood simply by transforming a vacant lot into a garden!

The Grow with Your Neighbors (GWYN) program has been converting unused land into positive, productive spaces since 1986. Managed through Five Rivers Metroparks, this program provides many forms of ongoing support to groups. “We help with land acquisition assistance, community organization, soil amendments and tilling, community building events, training and consulting, seeds, educational materials and workshops and lots of encouragement!” explained GWYN Manager Luci Beachdell. “If you’re interested in bringing a community garden into your neighborhood, Metroparks can help you find out about ownership and contact landowners, plus perform tests for soil and limited heavy metals.”

There are many ways neighborhoods benefit from community gardens. They provide a place for strengthening connections between adults, children and nature. They promote healthier lifestyles through regular outdoor exercise and promote consumption of fruits and vegetables. (This is especially important in “food deserts” where fresh produce is not readily available.) Community gardens also beautify and create a sense of pride for neighborhoods, which can lead to a decrease in crime. Finally, community gardens build fellowship. “Neighbors get to know one another, share ideas and gardening tips, and develop interpersonal skills through interactions with other gardeners,” said Beachdell. “Many gardeners donate their crop surpluses to friends and family members, as well as local food banks, improving the lives of even those who aren’t in the gardens!”

Before planning a community garden, there are a few tasks residents should check off their lists when they start pursuing a space:

Talk to the neighbors. Are your neighbors enthusiastic about a community garden? If they’re not supportive, you may want to reconsider the location.

Assess the suitability of the proposed site. What’s its history and potential for chemicals in the soil? Does the site get six to eight hours of sunlight per day? Is there too steep a slope?

Are there drainage problems? Does the site feel safe? Will a garden disrupt current use of the site (it’s a place where people usually walk dogs, play sports, etc.)?

Once you determine the area you chose is capable of hosting a community garden, there are a few steps to follow to get started:

Make sure you have enough time to plan. If you start planning in the fall, you should be able to get the garden up and running in May of the following year.

Make friends! Develop a group of people who have a shared interest in beautifying your community. Consult, meet and talk with your neighbors.  Having good support will help sustain the garden. Make sure your group includes a few people who have experience gardening.

“If you don’t know much, you can always check into the gardening classes that Five Rivers Metroparks offers!” said Beachdell.

Talk with GWYN staff about starting a new garden.

Decide how you want the garden – and its organization – to look.

Go to work establishing your new garden – GWYN will help!

“The more people interested in seeing this project happen, and the more people you can recruit to help with everything from mowing to buying seedlings to workdays to keeping a watchful eye on the finished product, the better your chances are at establishing a successful community garden that will add beauty and vibrancy to your neighborhood for years to come!” said Beachdell.


Five Rivers Metroparks Programs

Park(ing) Day
Friday, Sept. 16 (all day), downtown Dayton
PARK(ing) Day is an annual, worldwide event that inspires city dwellers everywhere to transform metered parking spots into temporary parks for the public good. Metroparks provides plants, Green Velvet Sod farms provides sod, and the Circus Creative Collective organizes volunteers to set up and staff the “parks” in downtown Dayton. Call
(937) 277-6545 for locations.

Start a New Community Garden
Thursday, Oct. 27, 6:00-7:30 p.m., Wegerzyn Gardens MetroPark
How can you start a community vegetable garden in your neighborhood, school or church? Learn the essential steps to a successful project during this free program. Reservations requested; walk-ins welcome. Call (937) 277-6545 for details or register online.




To learn more about the GWYN program, including current garden sites and details on how to start your own community garden, at

Reach DCP freelance writer Valerie Beerbower at

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