Thursday, December 8, 2011

GCGC Ends 2011 with Hope for Greater County Support in 2012

While the Hub Garden meeting closed out November, GCGC opened December with its monthly meeting at Planks Pizza (on Parson’s) on December 1.


Kelly Lindsey is taking over for Noreen as GCGC's new Contacts Manager and will send out email reminders of the meetings if she has your email address.

Thanks to Michael Doody (Kossuth Street CG) for arranging for the place for GCGC's December meeting and the keynote speaker, Franklin County Commissioner, John O’Grady.

The GCGC received its first – or one of its first – contributions tonight. Pictured is Heidi Ballard presenting a check for $100 to Andrew Proud and Peggy Murphy to support GCGC's efforts to unite Central Ohio’s community gardens.

During Mr. O’Grady’s remarks, the owner of Planks came by to circulate a copy of Better Homes & Gardens which featured his residential garden. He also said he would pay GCGC for a GCGC medalian/logo to post on his walls.

Leslie Strader (from the City) mentioned that community gardeners could find information about community gardens at Select Key Initiatives on the left. Then select Resource Protection and Conservation. Then scroll down to Community Gardens and select “Garden policy explained.”


Franklin County Commissioner John O'Grady shares the Mayor’s passion for community gardening. He introduced Kate Metheny, who is coordinating community gardens for the County and is the counterpart to Leslie Strader (who was also in attendance) for the City. Kate reported that 40 grants had been awarded in 2011 by a coalition of the County, City and Columbus Foundation. The County has identified additional CBDG funds which could support even more community garden grants and intends to apply for those funds.

Mr. O’Grady gardened as a child. Like most of us, he was forced to do so even when he did not appreciate it.

The local Somali community approached him in 2009 for land to start a community garden and he found some. As reported earlier in the Columbus Dispatch, they are in the process of forming a county land bank in the unincorporated areas of the county similar to the City’s land bank of condemned properties. (He gave a shout out to BREAD for advocating this approach, but wanted to emphasize that the County’s interest in taking over properties is to improve the overall tax base and economic develop, not to promote urban farming). The County found property on Gantz Road – where Franklin County Children’s Services used to be near Frank Road – and had it rezoned as a park to get a conservation easement. In 2011, the local Burmese community similarly approached him about setting aside land for their community to be used for community gardening. Mid-Ohio Food Bank and Life Care Alliance may also start raising food there as well to support their programs (if they can find volunteers to assist them). All of the non-profit organizations need grant money to get started. The County plowed 3-4 acres for these groups and this year bought a tractor. The County is also helping with a community garden in Whitehall.

Commissioner O’Grady visited his cousin recently in Cleveland to see its community gardening program. Next week, he planned to visit Detroit and would work in similar fact-finding visits to community gardens and urban farms to see what works up there.

He mentioned other gardens which the County operates, including the raised bed community garden at the former Juvenile Justice facility on West Mound. They are installing a rain catchement system off a nearby parking garage (which generates a lot of water). My heroes, Rain Brothers, also helped them install underground rain cisterns at the Gantz Road gardens. Apparently, the Somali gardening technique involves not only digging deep trenches, but also flooding their gardens. So, they run through a lot of water very quickly.

Commissioner O’Grady then graciously took a lot of questions and comments for suggestions to help out the local community gardening community:
1) It would be helpful that when the County demolishes buildings on its land bank properties that the foundations be dug out before turning them over to gardens. Otherwise, we spend a few years digging out concrete, bricks and other debris by hand (just like our forefathers dug out tree stumps and stones from our farmland). Mr. O’Grady seemed to be completely unaware of the condition in which these demolished properties are left and how much work the Burmese gardeners have faced in cleaning out the FCCS site on Gantz Road.
2) Although the grant program is very helpful, last year some gardens received too little funds to make any meaningful difference. Thus, it is a good idea to provide more funds to fewer gardens in order to make a greater impact. The sole exception would be that $500 grants would go a huge way to solving the water problem facing most gardens. The SACG received a 550 gallon rain tank/cistern in 2010 and it was a game changer. Every garden should have one. Rain barrels are nice, but can be drained in just a day or two with multiple gardeners. Moreover, Rain Brothers gets their tanks from a local manufacturer in Lancaster – which is a boost to our local economy.
3) Anything the County can do to help us with raising our own compost would be greatly appreciated. The Ohio EPA is against us forming partnerships with local businesses (like coffee shops and restaurants) to obtain coffee grounds and fruit/vegetable waste to add to our compost bins. Being able to grow our own compost (and possibly even selling some like Growing Power does to fund our other activities) would go a very long way to making community gardening sustainable. Another discussion ensued about the potential monopoly being given to Eartha Ltd to grow compost from area restaurant waste and then which is then sold and transported out of the county.
4) Encouragement was given to increasing the amount of funds allocated to community gardening by comparing the current local budget to that of the City of Cleveland and Cuyahoga County. Compost is expensive, as is fencing (to keep out critters and poachers), etc.
5) The community gardens with large tracts of land could benefit from use of the County’s new tractor. After all, they will only need it once or twice a year. Couldn’t they lend or lease it to GCGC every now and then each Spring and Fall?
6) Commissioner O’Grady suggested that a one-day conference be held to bring together garden leaders and community leaders to share information needs and resources.
7) Commissioner O’Grady also emphasized that all non-profits, including gardens, need to find other sources of income to sustain themselves because the government will not be able to support them as it has in the past. We need to have financial plans with alternative sources of income. (Again, letting us grow and sell compost would be helpful in this regard). Similarly, funding for hoop houses/high tunnels would help us raise funds by selling financially lucrative winter produce, like lettuce, tomatoes and kale, etc.


Strader’s Garden Centers has again blessed us with bounty by generously donating thousands of tulip and daffodil bulbs to beautify our gardens and neighborhoods. As pictured, Peggy Murphy and Dan Downing brought in all these bulbs for us to help ourselves and distribute to our gardeners and neighborhoods. I took dozens of bulb bags, and passed them out to some SACG gardeners and at the Block Watch meeting on Saturday. (In fact, I think I've recruited another garden for the GCGC: Morrison Hill's new CG]. I still had a SACG neighbor contact me yesterday for more bulbs. Guess what? There are still lots of daffodil bulbs available. You can contact Kelly before Friday or after Monday or Peggy this weekend.

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