Friday, August 26, 2011

SACG Wins 2011 Sustainability Award from Growing To Green and ACGA

Last night was the tenth annual Growing to Green Awards & Harvest Celebration recognizing the efforts of community gardening in Central Ohio. This is always an inspirational event and a nice time to touch base with other community gardeners. It doesn’t hurt that it is catered by yummy City BBQ (which grills the chicken on site) and is supplemented by a potluck of dishes made with fresh garden produce.

Like last year, it was held in a large tent on the new community garden campus of the Franklin Park Conservatory. Although the invitation indicated that the event goes from 6-9, it generally runs from 6:30 – 8 p.m. The event is organized and executed by the detail-oriented Women’s Board of Franklin Park Conservatory. There was a very good turnout of approximately 150, especially considering that Leadership Columbus was having a big event downtown and the Homeless Families Foundation was having a big event in Franklinton.

The weather could not have been more perfect for the GTG celebration and it was nice to see lots of familiar faces, including Kojo, Ms. Pepper, Marge Telerski, Patrick Kaufman, Barb, Diane and Trae from the Bexley Community Garden, Carla Cefaratti (from the Women’s Board), Wendy Finch McCusker, Susanna Evans and Penny Upp. Then, of course, there's Bill Dawson making sure that he personally hugs everyone in attendance; this is really his night. SACG gardeners attended the event in significant numbers. We took 1-1/2 tables this year. We would have had even more people if Beth and Fred had read their emails earlier. :) Kelly from Godman Guild also joined us at our table.

Su Lok, Director of Corporate & Community Partnerships at the Scotts Miracle-Gro Company was the keynote speaker for the evening and was followed by FPC Executive Director, Bruce Harkney. Bruce cited the overwhelming community support for the community garden campus as one of the reasons the American Community Garden Association relocated its national headquarters from New York City to FPC here in Columbus.

Neighborhood Improvement Project of the Year was sponsored by JPMorgan Chase. This $250 award goes to the park, gateway, streetscape, school or other community beautification project that does the most to beautify the surrounding community. It went to Highland West Community Garden, which attacked blighted areas of their neighborhood, tore down two dilapidated barns and installed a community garden on two abandoned lots. The garden was fully subscribed within one day (which is impressive in any neighborhood). The improvement to the appearance of the neighborhood was recognized by area landlords who began mowing more frequently and the planting of flowers up and down the streets. Upon accepting the award, their leader just stepped forward and said “thank you.” Short and to the point.

Education Garden of the Year is presented and sponsored by the Hinson Family Trust. This $500 award is given to a school or other organization that utilizes garden projects for educational purposes. It was given to the Imagine Garden of Riverside Elementary School in Dublin which commenced in April 2011. The students and parents were asked to select which vegetables should be raised to share and donate to food pantries. Their leader thanked Bill Dawson from Growing to Green for all of his help.

Paul B. Redman Youth Leadership Award is presented by the Franklin Park Conservatory's Women's Board and provides $250 to the youth (under the age of 18) for use for his/her community garden or his/her education in gardening. Last year, the award went to the SACG’s own Nykkel. This year, the award was given to Nathanial Applewaite from the New Harvest Garden in Linden. Nathanial chose the garden for his court-ordered 60 hours of community service and says that the decision has probably saved his life. He has learned personal responsibility and the importance of contributing to the health of the community.

This was the first year for the Sustainability Award, which is sponsored and presented by the American Community Garden Association through its Executive Director, Beth Urban. This $250 award recognizes the garden that is utilizing sustainable community gardening practices, including community building activities, sustainable garden design, and green practices (such as rain barrels, etc.) that have proven sustainable over the long term. It also comes with a garden cart (valued at $250) donated by the Gardener Supply Company. It was awarded to the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden!!!! (Of course, we greatly benefitted in our in our initial planning in 2009 from the abundance of information and tips on the ACGA website). In addition to our harvesting, utilizing and storing 800 gallons of water through rain barrels and tanks, repurposing and recycling materials to benefit the garden, and keeping the cost down through fundraising, grants and strict frugality, the SACG also works to establish connections with the neighbors by encouraging youth gardening, providing seeds and seedlings to our neighbors, donating food, and making food available to the neighbors.

I did a little jig and tried to get all of our gardeners up on the stage (but Betty and Joe remained demurely at the table). After nagging and cajoling the gardeners all summer about doing their chores and keeping ahead of the weeds, it’s great to be able to celebrate and provide them with some well-deserved recognition. The SACG crew is extremely hardworking and dedicated to the success of the SACG. They come from all over southeastern Columbus and Bexley. They do not come for the crime or to try and save the world, but to grow an amazing amount of food on a very tight budget. We are very focused gardeners and healthy eaters. Everything else flows from that. I bored the crowd with stories about how hard it is to keep digging out construction debris by hand, how hard the gardeners work and the challenges presented by the neighborhood crime. However, we are dedicated to maintaining the garden going forward and to improving lives.

Each gardener on the stage and their efforts were recognized: Rayna Alexander (gardener extraordinaire and SACG Board member), Jeff LaRue (SACG Board member and former gardener), Charlie Kall (SACG Board member and all-hands-on-deck guy), Mari and John Sunami (gardeners who keep us connected to everything and show up to most everything), Joe and Betty Weaver (gardeners who helped with initial fundraising and going door-to-door in 2009 to personally invite all of the neighbors to join us), Louise Thompson (new gardener who tells us how to do everything), and Milgra “Jeannie” King (former gardener who hasn’t met a seed she can’t make bloom and whose prayers have sustained the SACG for several years). Unfortunately, Barb and Frank had to work and could not be on the stage. The ceremony proceeded after the microphone was pried from my hands. . . .

Community Gardener of the Year. This $250 award for the community gardening project (sponsored by GreenScapes Landscape Co.) was to be awarded on account of a person who is exceptionally dedicated to his/her neighborhood garden and/or the movement of community gardening in central Ohio. If you read this blog regularly, you would know that this was the least suspenseful announcement of the evening. There was really only one person whose efforts and contributions to community gardening in Central Ohio stands heads and shoulders over all of us little gardeners: Peggy Murphy. In fact, I feel that 2011 is the year that I have served as Peggy’s press agent;) Peggy is a Master Gardener, and is one of the leaders of the Hilltop Highland Youth Garden, which won outstanding garden of the year in 2009. I met Peggy in April at the Greater Columbus Growing Coalition meeting in Franklinton. Peggy is one of the leaders of the GCGC. This group meets monthly to foster collaboration among the 250 community gardens in Franklin County and generally tries to center each meeting on an educational component. I grabbed a seat in the back next to Kelly. (You can always find Kelly and me in the back of any gathering;) Peggy was sitting with her granddaughter across the table. Some women carry pictures of their grandchildren; Peggy carries pictures of her community garden. (And some people think I’m obsessed;) I had no idea that she was a GCGC leader or even a leader at the Highland Garden; she is that unassuming. She was extremely friendly and immediately set upon trying to convert me to joining the God’s Gardeners group. Speaking of, she is also a leader in that initiative – to start 200 new church-supported community gardens in Columbus during the City’s bicentennial in 2013. She also helped Richard Harris get the Growing Hearts and Hands Community on Garden on Oak Street off the ground in 2009 and is the patron saint of a number of other fledgling community gardens. Finally, she has been the point person to distribute thousands upon thousands of seedlings generously donated this summer by Strader’s Garden Centers. The SACG and pretty much every community garden in Central Ohio has benefitted from the blessings which have come Peggy’s way. If you can’t tell, I am a big fan of Peggy Murphy.

Community Garden of the Year. This $500 award (sponsored by The Scotts-Miracle Gro Company) was to be awarded to the top neighborhood gardening project for beautification and/or food production. It went to the Gantz Road Community Garden operated by Franklin County in the southwest section of the county. Gantz Road currently consists of 2 gardens and provides plots to 151 families. All of the plots had been taken by April 1 this year. Many of the families are Somali immigrants and garden in an uniquely African style (i.e., with moats around their plots to conserve water). A third garden is being added for Burmese immigrants. The garden is the brainchild of Commissioner Jim O’Grady and has been improved by a water catchment system which was installed.

It was a lovely evening. Kelly showed Mari, John and I her plot at the FPC and then Mari, John and I strolled around a bit more. I finally strolled around even more with Miss Jeannie and drove her back to Stoddart Avenue. While there, I ran into a group of our youth gardeners and showed them our new trophy. They wished they had been there and promised to come and help me plant more Fall crops on Saturday morning. Then, I went home, poured myself a glass of cava and then dropped the check off with SACG Treasurer, Beth.

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