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East Springfield Residents to Have New Option for Gardening

Michele Skalicky

Community gardens are growing in popularity as more and more people want to know where their food comes from.  Starting this spring, east Springfield residents who don’t have garden space or even a yard can grow their own vegetables.   KSMU’s Michele Skalicky has more.

Drive down the 2700 block of E. Stanford, just east of Oak Grove, and you’ll see a vacant lot with dirt that’s been turned over.  There’s a sign there now, too, that tells the plans for the lot.  Schweitzer United Methodist Church is creating the East Stanford Neighborhood Garden on the lot it owns, and will rent out garden plots to area residents.

Associate paster, Jason Leininger, first brought up the idea of starting a garden.  He says last year 16,000 people came through the church’s food pantry, and 60 to 70 percent of those were repeat visitors.  Schweitzer saw how much need there is in the community, so it put together a research and development team to study what the church could do to impact poverty in the area.  Leininger says they came up with several conclusions.

"And one of those conclusions is that we need to be active doing some endeavors in the fields of relief, rehabilitation and development.  And a garden really fits into the framework of the development field," he said.

He hopes the garden will help create a sense of community in its neighborhood.

"It's a conversation spot.  Where do people in a neighborhood gather?  Where do they meet?  Where do they converse?  Well, if everybody's growing something or a lot of people within the neighborhood are growing something in this plot of ground, they're gonna talk about all kinds of things, and we just want to really cultivate that kind of conversation," he said.

Colette Freeman, head of the neighborhood garden project, agrees.

"Neighborhood gardens are unifying for the neighborhood and because it gets people working together and rubbing shoulders and putting elbow grease to life together, and a garden, in particular,  is something that people can talk about:  'how did your zucchini grow this year?  Mine was great.  Mine was terrible,' and it gives people the opportunity to share something that they've produced, which is a source of pride," she said.

The lot where the garden will be is 220’ X 76,’ and it will be made into 15’ X 5’ and 15’ X 10’ garden plots.  Plans now are for one part of the lot to be used to grow produce for the church’s food pantry.  But if the requests for space are significant, that part might also be used for rental plots. 

The main target for tenants at the garden is the Oak Grove Neighborhood, Schweitzer members and those seeking help from the food pantry.  And Freeman says a group of people that lives nearby has already expressed interest in the garden.

"There's a large group of Burmese people who, I think, are interested in having several plots.  They're refugees and, I think some of them are farmers in the past, and they might be glad to get their hands in teh soil," she said.

Jim Bass is a volunteer with the East Stanford Neighborhood Garden project.  He’s been gardening for a long time and describes he and his wife as “pretty much self-sufficient.”  He says they’ll offer seeds and gardening advice to those renting plots.  And he and Freeman says they might also eventually offer classes.

"About nutrition and cooking and canning classes," said Freeman.

"Yeah, we have talked about that sort of thing--being able to teach canning, teach how to prepare your foods, you know, you may grow something you're not really familiar with and may learn to eat some new foods, maybe," he said.

The neighborhood garden team would welcome donations of either cash or tools.  Freeman says they have a long wish list.

"We need wheelbarrows, hose, rakes--both garden and leaf--hand tools, shovels.  Pretty much anything you can think of you would use in a garden we're going to need," she said.

Volunteers are needed for a work day that’s planned for 9 am on Saturday February 21st to pick up rocks and pull out roots.  Then the ground will be tilled, the soil prepared and the plots laid out.  Bass hopes people can start planting on May 1st or sooner.

To learn more about the East Stanford Neighborhood garden, clickhere.

Michele Skalicky has worked at KSMU since the station occupied the old white house at National and Grand. She enjoys working on both the announcing side and in news and has been the recipient of statewide and national awards for news reporting. She likes to tell stories that make a difference. Michele enjoys outdoor activities, including hiking, camping and leisurely kayaking.