Community gardens sprout in Sedgwick County

04/05/2014 10:11 AM

08/06/2014 10:42 AM

All indicators are pointing to a continued increase in people growing their own food, in Wichita and across the country.

Ron Marcum sees the increase at Dutch’s Greenhouse, which carries 100 varieties of tomatoes alone.

The interest can be seen as well in the number of new community gardens sprouting in Wichita. Seven new such gardens in Sedgwick County this year received grants from the Kansas Health Foundation. This is the last of three years that the foundation has awarded the grants, and in those years it has helped 85 gardens get started across the state. Thirteen of them have been in the Wichita area.

During the past five years, the number of households growing food in the United States has risen 17 percent, to 42 million – one in three households, according to the National Gardening Association. That’s the highest level in more than a decade.

In a new report, the association says that younger households have shown the greatest increase – up 63 percent, to 13 million, since 2008.

Other findings show the number of community gardens tripling, from 1 million to 3 million, and the number of households with incomes less than $35,000 doing food gardening up 38 percent, to 11 million.

One of the new local community gardens is for the residents of Oaklawn. It’s being sponsored by the Derby Recreation Commission.

Because there is no grocery store in low-income Oaklawn, “we would love for people to have a plot and take ownership of the garden,” said Terry Bourlard, the community wellness coordinator for the Derby Recreation Commission. Twelve plots are being planned for this first year. The Oaklawn community can ask questions and get more information at a meeting at 6:15 p.m. Wednesday at the Oaklawn Activity Center, 4904 S. Clifton. The garden is behind the center.

The plots will cost $20 to rent, and there will be scholarships for those who can’t afford that.

“That’s an area where people may not have a place to garden, and they’ll learn from each other and help each other and have some equipment they can borrow,” said associate extension specialist Evelyn Neier, project coordinator for the community garden grants.

There’s been lots of variety in the community gardens, Neier said.

Some are getting children and teens involved to teach them about gardening, nutrition, cooking and service. Some gardens are faith-based; some are affiliated with community organizations.

“Over the years, since the beginning until now, there’s been an increase in communal gardens as opposed to allotment gardens where people have a separate plot,” Neier said. “Some are a combination of the two.”

The gardens can accomplish several goals. For example, the Arc Self Advocates Rows of Sharin’ Garden in Wichita involves people who have intellectual and developmental disabilities as well as the neighborhood. Not only are the Arc’s “self advocates” learning about gardening, “they’re using the produce to learn how to cook different things,” Neier said.

The other new gardens in Sedgwick County that have received grants for 2014, according to the website www.kansascommunitygardens.org:

• Cheney Community Garden, sponsored by Cheney United Methodist Church to offer plots for rent to city residents.
• CLASS Communal Garden, sponsored by Caring Ladies Assisting Students to Succeed, at the Iasis Christian Center in northeast Wichita to involve at-risk high-schoolers and neighborhood kids.
• God’s Garden, at Union Rescue Mission, to help feed poor families and the homeless.
• Leadership Academy Garden, at St. Mary Orthodox Christian Church.
• Robin Rounds Memorial Garden, sponsored by Community Operations Recovery Empowerment (CORE), at 1121 N. Green, to teach and involve youth in gardening, providing produce to neighbors, food shelters and food kitchens. The garden is named for the late gardening enthusiast Robin Rounds, who was the son of Wichita activist Jihad Talib Muqtasid.
• Urban Prep Academy Community Garden, at Urban Preparatory Academy of Wichita, which will be opening in August at the former Mueller School, near 24th and Estelle. The garden is affiliated with both Wichita Independent Neighborhoods Inc. and the Christian Faith Center.

It plans to introduce children to gardening, allowing them to take some of the produce home to their families, as well as teaching them preparation and preservation of produce.

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