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Community garden project helping to revitalize South Side

Anne Evans Anne Evans Community garden project helping to revitalize South SideA Lincoln Park Elementary student helps get the community garden started. Photo courtesy of Capital.
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The houses that line the streets in the South Side’s community near Lincoln Park show the hard times that have fallen on the area. It’s not hard to find a vacant home with broken or boarded up windows or overgrown lawns. The median house price is only $32,500, which is better than where the prices were last year but still not where they were five years ago.

Blighted homes along E. Markison Avenue.

But there are brighter things happening in the neighborhood. Nationwide Children’s Hospital will be celebrating the opening of their new campus -the biggest pediatric expansion in the country- on June 10th during a Community Celebration Day. Their Healthy Neighborhoods Healthy Families initiative is dedicated to improving the area and its residents.

Further on the South Side, the community garden at Columbus Public School’s Lincoln Park Elementary is another bright spot. Over 100 students in first through fifth grades were happy and eager to get started working on the garden during the kick-off event at the beginning of May.

"Check out the Lincoln Park Community Garden... Coming Soon" student artwork decorates the hallway.

Some of the problems the South Side faces include poverty, limited nutritional education and application, obesity, and community redevelopment. Mark Stansbery, manager of The Barack Community Recreation Center, feels the community garden plays an important role in addressing these issues.

Stansbery has been leading the community garden effort on this site for four years. “The development began six years ago with Local Matters, the Lincoln Park Elementary School, and community folk planning the garden and envisioning the project,” says Stansbery.

“This year we are enjoying partnerships well beyond the community with Whole Foods, Capital University, Molina, Nationwide Insurance and Hospital, and city schools, recreation and parks staff, and volunteers helping community residents plant, cultivate, and, hopefully, harvest product.”

Molina Healthcare, a company providing quality healthcare for financially vulnerable individuals and families who receive their care through Medicaid, Medicare and other government funded programs, provided two $1,000 mini grants to the garden this year to improve the community garden as a “logical means for improving children’s dietary consumption of vegetables and fruits grown through sustainable, organic agricultural methods.”

A Lincoln Park Elementary student helps get the community garden started. Photo courtesy of Capital.

Molina provided the grants to the Lincoln Park Community Garden for its role in a “hands-on approach to educating school children and the community in nutrition and the basic principles of a sustainable food system that furthers environmentally sound agricultural practices, and promotes the consumption of fresh vegetables and fruits.”

The garden also received monies from the Columbus and Franklin County Community Garden Grant Program. The Scotts Miracle-Gro Company is donating products for the garden.

The objectives for the project are to provide the community with a sustainable supply of fruits and vegetables, and provide community education on nutrition and food preparation.

Whole Foods Market is participating by offering nutrition classes and cooking demonstrations at the Barack Recreation Center.

As a company, Whole Foods Market has a core value of commitment to communities. “This is the first relationship the Dublin store has had that is as multi-faceted and well rounded,” says Tiffany Smith, the marketing team leader for Whole Foods Market in Dublin.

Carrie Rasmussen, healthy eating specialist for Whole Foods Market in Dublin will be creating simple, vegetable strong recipes for the classes. Every recipe is tailored to the audience, so the recipes used in the garden will incorporate many of the fruits and veggies grown there and be ones an every day cook can make. The classes will be held on Tuesday, June 26, Wednesday, July 11, and Tuesday, August 21.

Historically, the South Side has been underserved or isolated from larger city benefits, however, many changes are taking place. The partnerships with the community garden are a result of intentional efforts at building community involvement supported through business, academic, and corporate investment. They are making a difference.

Capital University became involved in the Lincoln Park Community Garden as part of their Empathy Experiment for 2012.

“Capital learned about the garden through its work with Columbus City Schools, which was one of our community partners for this year’s Empathy Experiment,” says Nichole Johnson, director of media relations and communications for Capital University.

A student from Capital University works with Lincoln Park Elementary students during the garden kickoff event on May 9. Photo courtesy of Capital.

The Empathy Experiment was started in November of 2010 by Capital University’s President Denvy Bowman. It immerses a small group of students in a social experiment to find out if empathy can be taught. This year’s subject was nutrition. Part of the focus was learning the importance of eating locally, supporting those who make a living by growing food, and learning about improving access to locally grown food.

“Capital’s support of the community garden wasn’t central to the Empathy Experiment; it just came about because of it, through our partnership with Columbus City Schools, Whole Foods Market and Columbus Public Health,” says Johnson. “We see it as a natural extension of the Empathy Experiment and an opportunity for service.”

As an earlier part of the experiment, some students took an immersion trip with Whole Foods Market to Snowville Creamery. Seeing people working hard to produce food for others was an enlightening experience.

“I learned so much about what Ohio farmers have to offer, the different types of farming, and the vast amount of knowledge that goes in to keeping a farm working all the time,” says Capital student Carolyn Newberry. “I know I am encouraged to eat locally and will encourage my family and friends to do the same. The people I met in Appalachia work too hard to barely make a living wage and they need consumers’ support.”

Although Capital’s Empathy Experiment for this year has concluded, the university will continue to schedule volunteers through the fall harvest season and then see where it goes from there.

“No definite long-term plans have been made,” says Johnson. “But as long as there’s an opportunity to engage and improve the community through service and other kinds of partnerships — especially when those activities align with our mission, values and student interests — Capital wants to be part of the conversation.”

Other groups are also volunteering their time and efforts over the summer. The United Methodist Church for All People plans to have people attend the Tuesday work days. It’s a part of their commitment to helping improve the neighborhood.

“Our partnership is a by-product of administering an after school program and summer program at Lincoln Park Elementary School,” says David Cofer, spokesperson for the church. “Our role will kick in as the school year ends and the summer begins. Children participating in our summer program will have the opportunity to contribute to the gardening effort as part of our afternoon programming.”

The Church for All People also participates in other community gardens on the South Side, one located on Stanaford Place (the old South Side Settlement House community garden) and one located on Wager St. that has been called the Mike Dyle community garden in tribute to a beloved community member.

The garden at Lincoln Park is becoming a key focus of the South Side neighborhood.

“The community garden’s future is bright,” says Stansbery. “It will become a community institution where youth will learn nutritional services and families will build life long relationships with their community.”

If you’d like to get involved, please contact the Barack Community Recreation Center.

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