Special Reports

June 16, 2011

Neighborhood gardens sprouting in Wichita

For the past two weeks, we've been showing what nearby communities in Missouri have been doing to help local food supplies.

Back home in Wichita, we found more than a dozen neighborhood and community gardens, and a few would like to see them organize into a cooperative that could expand the opportunities for locally grown food.

"I'd like to see us get organized, so we could share resources," said Janet Wilson, who manages community garden activities for the Wichita Independent Neighborhoods. "Instead of being independent gardens, we could become a community of gardens."

Wilson manages a garden at 11th and Estelle, which helps feeds residents in that neighborhood. There's another a few blocks away at 15th and Poplar, run by Carl Ligon

"Anyone who wants to can come by, pull a weed or two and take what they want," Ligon said.

I first learned about community gardening, through my church, College Hill United Methodist. Members plant and grow vegetables that they hope will be harvested to feed people in the surrounding neighborhood near First Street and Erie.

"We were out working in the garden the other day and this cute little boy rode up on his bike, and said, 'My mom dug up some of those potatoes' " said Rick Muma, who helps manage the garden. "As he was riding off, he said, 'and she's cooking them right now.' We were thrilled that people were getting the message that this food was there for them."

Churches are on leading the planting of community and neighborhood gardens.

Grant Chapel AME, Fairmont United Church of Christ, Marantha Worship Center and Journey Church are among community gardens managed by the faith community. Sisters of St. Joseph Dear sponsor a community garden for residents of the Hilltop Neighborhood, north of Harry between Hillside and Oliver.

Thomas and Ashley Stanley manage the garden for Marantha near Kellogg and Webb.

"My wife wanted to start this, because buying produce from the store is so expensive, and we figured it was becoming a problem for people to buy nutritious food during these tough economic times," Stanley said.

The City of Wichita sponsors one community garden at Garvey Park.

We're written about businesses in Kansas City which have planted gardens throughout the downtown area, and efforts in Springfield, Mo., to grow 1,000 gardens.

That Springfield program spurred the start of more than 3,500 gardens there, organizers say, from backyards to school, church and neighborhood gardens. The state of Missouri used that model to create a 10,000 Gardens program this spring. So far, the state is more than a third of the way there.

"We would love to get something like that started here," said Kay Johnson, environmental initiatives manager for the City of Wichita.

Folks like Wilson and Susan Schoket say they're ready to help.

Several years ago, Schoket set up the non-profit group Infinite Growth Opportunities to help people start community and neighborhood gardens.

So far, she's helped create gardens on a vacant lot at 915 S. Main and at the Delano Senior Services Center. Delano also has a program at its weekly farmer's market, where backyard gardeners can sell their extra harvests.

Schoket said her organization could help businesses and other groups set up more gardens, and produce more local food in Wichita.

"We started out trying to help people in under-served communities, where you have some families in third- or fourth generations of poverty," Schoket said. "But we could do this throughout Wichita, if we had the funds."

Take the challenge

When you plan your Fourth of July feast, consider how much you can make with local food. The Sedgwick County Extension office has issued a challenge to residents to see how much local food items they can use in their holiday cooking.

You can find a list of local vendors from Our Local Food South-Central.

Find more resources on Love Local Food, a blog by Wichita nutritionist Paula Miller, whose husband also happens to be a chef.

Now, that's a couple who knows their food.

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