Saturday, June 30, 2012

And the Walls Came Tumbling Down

Notice anything different?  Guess what?  That eyesore building next to the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden is now mostly gone.  You can even see the street sign for Stoddart and Main from the Garden now. 

As reported here just two weeks ago, we were told that the eyesore was only the third most hazardous eyesore in the City's Land Bank inventory, would be bid out in July and most likely would be demolished in the Fall.  That was good news.  Then, last weekend, barricades went up.  John Turner had an engineer inspect the building and suddenly and without warning, the demolition was put on an extremely fast track.  A three-ton backhoe showed up on Wednesday and Orlando called me at 3:30 to rush over.  By the time I got there before 4 p.m., the driver was gone, but not before running over one of our new cherry trees.  To say I was annoyed is an understatement. (I had planted that tree a month ago in the heat and had been watering it twice/week in this drought and don't have time to go get another tree, transport it, dig another hole and plant it before the Garden Tour in eight days). 

Look how close the backhoe is to the Garden and our precious shed.  This process has been a little nervewracking, to say the least.

We thought the building would be demolished on Thursday, but instead the building started to come down on Friday morning.  Needless to say, it drew a surprised and amazed crowd, including several SACG gardeners.   Some neighbors did a little dance of joy to celebrate the destruction of one of the ugliest builidngs in Central Ohio.   One neighbor expressed regret that one of the last wall paintings by Walt Neil could not be saved.  His paintings used to decorate buildings up and down Main and Livingston.

The demolition took all day. There was not much left of the roof.  Eveyone was surprised how easily it came down.  We managed to use a leak in the fire hose (used to keep down the dust) to water Rayna's plot.  (She catches all of the breaks).   It was ungodly hot, so even though we managed to do some gardening in the morning, that activity became unwise as the day progressed.  Beside, no one wanted to be downwind from all of the dust.  

Around 3 p.m., my phone started buzzing with heat alerts and then severe thunder storm warnings.  The radar showed the storm in Dublin, so I wasn't too concerned as we packed up to leave.  However, the storm hit literally seconds after I walked in my backdoor.   Who knew that 82 mph winds were coming our way?  Gotta love that rain, though.  I had to drive back to the Garden to ensure that everyone else got away ok and found construction debris blown all over the neighborhood and the Garden.  (The  crew was only able to haul away maybe six loads before calling it quits for the weekend).  Our tank, which had been almost empty on Friday morning was up to 300 gallons and it was still raining when I left at 6 p.m.

And we now have a view of Main Street (albeit not a pretty one) from the Garden, now.  We plan to build a screen to improve the sight of our compost bins from Main Street now that the eyesore no longer serves that function.

 The demolition contractor tells me that she intends to leave no bricks behind in case we want to garden there (although they were pushing debris into the old basement). She'll cover it and plant grass seed before she leaves. (Let's hope it gets watered in well).

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Save the Date: July 8, 2012 is First Hub Community Garden Tour

On Sunday, July 8, 2012 from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m., twelve of the best community gardens in Central Ohio will be opening their gates and gardens to the public for the first – and maybe only-- Hub Garden tour. This self-guided community garden tour has been organized by Franklin Park Conservatory’s Growing to Green community gardening initiative. You should plan to attend if you are interested in seeing -- or are just curious about -- urban gardens and talking to community gardeners who are making a difference in their neighborhoods through growing fresh produce in inner city abandoned lots, donating to food pantries, providing youth education, job opportunities, celebrating culture and health and wellness initiatives. Community gardeners and volunteers will be on site at each garden to welcome visitors and answer questions. Notably, the tour is FREE (but you are encouraged to support any and all of the gardens you visit by buying lemonade, a token, and/or making a donation).

The SACG is, of course, participating. Our Super Stoddart youth gardeners will be selling the world’s finest lemonade to quench your thirst and quaint children’s shoe planters to add to your own fairy garden or patio. Your faithful Garden Manager will be there beginning at 1 p.m. The industrious Carter couple -- Frank & Barb – will be there before me starting at 11:30 and can also answer questions about the Block Watch flower garden across the street. We will have newbie SACG community gardeners before then who are dying to show you around and be stumped by your inquisitive questions.

Two rules:
  1. Stay on the path
  2. Do not pick anything inside the fence.

July is typically a great time to see a garden, but this was planned before our drought hit;-)   I hope that you will all be a little forgiving. 

The 12 by 2012 Initiative

This GTG initiative intends to celebrate 12 community garden educational hubs throughout the area that can act as sites for educational outreach, be examples of community garden best practices while garden leaders act as mentors to other nearby gardens to establish a strong community gardening network. Through the Franklin Park Conservatory’s Growing to Green Community Garden Program and supported by J.P. Morgan Chase & Co, this initiative presents Hubs or satellite gardens that can be utilized by new start up gardens for additional resources and networking.

In selecting these hub gardens GTG looked both geographically and at how these gardens are addressing five key mission areas:

• Celebration of culture
• Youth participation and education
• Job training
• Food production and feeding the hungry
• Nutrition programming

The "Dirty Dozen" Hub Gardens

These are the twelve gardens you can visit on July 8 (in any order which is most convenient for you):

Stoddart Ave Community Garden (SACG)
445-451 Stoddart Ave, Columbus, OH, 43205 (off East Main Street between Fairwood and Kelton – a bit west of Alum Creek Drive and Bexley.  You can take the I-70 East exit to Bexley/Main Street and then turn left on East Main)

As you already know, the SACG has revitalized vacant lots into a place for neighbors and other gardeners to grow fruit, flowers, herbs and vegetables of their choice. This garden engages neighborhood residents and children in garden participation and activities, donates fresh produce to area food pantries, and utilizes sustainable practices.

Franklinton Gardens -- “Kathy’s Place”
64 Jones Ave, Columbus, OH 43222 --

Franklinton Gardens has grown from one community garden to a thriving network of 6 throughout the neighborhood. In addition to its organic food production efforts, Franklinton Gardens offers agriculture-based activities, educational programs, and employment opportunities to empower neighbors and build a healthy community.

4 Seasons City Farm Garden of Freedom Community Garden
920 E. Mound Street 43205

This non-profit organization has initiated 12 community gardens in the Near East Side area and is committed to building a sense of community by beautifying the area, revitalizing abandoned lots, creating a self-sustaining and cooperative food production system, and demonstrating a sense of hope, belonging and spiritual renewal through shared garden work. This garden produces enough food to sell at markets and area restaurants.

Highland Community Garden
South Highland and Floral Avenues, Columbus OH 43223 – in the Hilltop off West Broad Street

This garden began as a way to help nourish a neighborhood struck by the economic downturn by giving the community a way to focus their energy into positive and productive gardening activity. This successful project resulted in a unique collaboration among Hilltop residents, faith-based communities, local non-profit groups, and youth programs.

St. Vincent de Paul Pantry Garden
2875 E. Livingston Avenue, Columbus OH 43209 (Behind Bishop Griffin Center) – near James Road

This picturesque project’s goal is to strengthen community ties and bonds among neighbors and encourage Hispanic residents in the neighborhood to grow and share their culture through food. It even has its own greenhouse.

Upper Arlington Lutheran Church Community Garden
3500 Mill Run Drive, Hilliard OH 43025

This garden is focused on maximizing production by using innovative gardening techniques, resulting in an annual harvest of more than 9,000 pounds. This produce is donated to a number of hunger relief programs, including the Hilliard summer lunch program, Victory Mission, and the Mid-Ohio Food Bank.

Gantz Road Community Garden
South of the intersection of Gantz and Frank Roads, Columbus OH

This project, spearheaded by Franklin County Commissioners and assisted by Growing to Green and Franklin County Master Gardeners, aids the Bantu Somali population in the neighborhood by providing space for them to grow the crops of their culture. The garden is planning to expand the area to increase access for the Burmese community.

Mid-Ohio Food Bank Community Garden
3960 Brookham Drive, Grove City, OH 43123 – take the first right off Stringtown Road as soon as you get off the I-71 exit.

This garden educated both community volunteers and families in need about how to grow food, eat healthier, and manage their food budgets. With around 1,400-square feet of growing space, the garden has contributed over 3,700 pounds of produce for the emergency food system and features a rain catchment system, greenhouse, and composting barrels.

Weinland Park Community Garden at Godman Guild
303 E. 6th Avenue, Columbus, OH 43201

This garden serves Weinland Park youth through our Summer Teen Employment Program, teaching transferable job skills through urban gardening, produce sales, and mentorship. Adults also receive gardening education through classes in partnership with OSU-Extension and Local Matters. This garden partners with a number of hunger relief organizations.

New Harvest Urban Arts Center- Ama Vera’s garden
1675 Arlington Avenue NE, Columbus, OH 43211 --

This garden in the Linden neighborhood began as a way to provide fresh produce for its adjacent café. The garden space teaches neighborhood youth and residents about their culture, and provides art and skills training.

Epworth United Methodist Church
5100 Karl Road, Columbus, OH 43229 – north of Morse Road

With the goal to provide produce for the church’s panty, this project evolved into an opportunity for the congregation’s youth to learn about nutrition while participating in community service. It has spawned several remote sites in two other counties for gardening, programming, and food donations.

Native American Indian Center of Central Ohio (NAICCO) Community Garden
67 East Innis Avenue, Columbus, OH 43207

This garden began as a Native American cultural garden, growing Ohio native plants as well as specific Native American ceremonial plants/herbs. It has evolved into a vegetable garden to supplement the on-site food pantry. A large mural decorates the garden’s edge.

Be there or be square. You know you want to:-)

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Food Pantries Welcome Garden Produce from Central Ohio Community Gardens

 As you have read here in 2009, 2010 and 2011, there are a number of food pantries, soup kitchens and shelters in Columbus which accept fresh garden produce to feed their clients. In fact, it is healthier for their clients to receive fresh produce because canned food has a lot of salt and other preservatives. In addition, you can receive a tax deduction for your donation – which will be handy next April. A recent national report showed that 1/4 American families went hungry for at least one meal in 2010 and that Columbus ranked 31st in the nation.

The federal Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act was enacted in 1996 and provides that donors of “apparently wholesome food or an apparently fit grocery product” cannot be held liable if the donation was made in good faith unless someone is hurt or dies from an action or omission that constitutes “gross negligence or intentional misconduct.” 42 U.S.C. § 1791. This includes gleaners or gardeners who donate fresh produce. It pre-empts any inconsistent state laws.

Lutheran Social Services Food Pantry. 1460 South Champion Avenue. (There’s a dock at the side of the building where there will be less chance that you’ll be confused as a client and asked to wait in line by the constantly revolving volunteers who staff the pantry. I always go in the side door). They have refrigerators available to store any excess.
Hours: Monday – Friday 8:00 a.m. until 2:30 p.m. and Saturdays 1-3 pm. I do not recommend stopping by during the lunch hour because the paid staff may be gone and you will be told to wait until they return or to come back later for a receipt.
Will take anything, but eggplant has not been popular with their clients.
Sorting: Preferably sorted, but is not required. Is a good idea to weigh the produce beforehand if you want a receipt.
Provides tax receipts. Please have it weighed and have the donor’s name and address available in writing. If they run out of receipts, you can have them sign your own. In that case, it's quicker if you bring two copies of your pre-prepared receipt so that they can keep one and you can take one. However, they have a copier there. They also like you to sign their donation book.
Distribution: Clients can help themselves to as much of each type of produce as is available, unless quantities are limited.
For more information: Call Manager Dave Drom or Assistant Manager Amanda at 443-5130.

Faith Mission. Donations can be made at two locations.
1) 599 East 8th Avenue near the fairgrounds. Go to the front door.
2) The Shelter at Long and Sixth Streets downtown (i.e., 151 North Sixth). Turn left at the Lafayette Alley. If the kitchen dock is not open (which is where there is usually someone washing something who can take your produce right from your idling car), knock on the first door on the left. Faith Mission is the only location in Columbus that serves three free meals every day. [Editor's Note: The Columbus Dispatch reported on March 8, 2012 that Faith Mission was serving 500 meals every night and, although the shelter serves single adults, more children are coming, too. While the need has increased 25% over the prior year, the food donations have decreased by 24%]. They are currently serving 1100 meals each day between the two locations.
Hours: Monday – Sunday 8:00 a.m. until 5:30 p.m.
Will take anything , but don’t need pumpkins.
Sorting: Preferably sorted. Is a good idea to weigh the produce beforehand if you want a receipt.
Provides tax receipts. Please have it weighed and have the donor’s name and address available in writing. They have their own forms that they will want to fill out while you wait. They sometimes (i.e., usually) run out of receipt forms, so it’s a good idea to bring your own to have them sign.
For more information: Ask for Mike Vell or any cook in the kitchen. Phone: 774-7726 or the front desk at 224-6617.

Salvation Army. 966 East Main Street, Columbus, Ohio 43205. This is the closest food pantry to the SACG that I know of. You should park on the side and go to the front door. The pantry is just to the right of the front door. It is very, large, sparkling clean, and relatively empty.
Hours: 8:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Will take anything.
Sorting: No need.
Provides tax receipts upon request at the front desk.
Distribution: Clients can help themselves to as much of each type of produce as is available,.
For more information, call Jerry Salmon at 358-2626. This pantry serves 30 families/day and five walk-ins per day.

Bishop Griffin Center---St. Vincent de Paul Food Pantry, 2875 E. Livingston Avenue, Columbus, Ohio 43209 -- one block west of James Rd. at the corner of Wellesley Rd. and Livingston. There is parking along Wellesley Road. This pantry is very, very small.
Hours: 9 a.m until noon on Wednesdays and 2 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Fridays
Will take anything
Sorting: Does not have to be sorting or bagged.
Provides tax receipts upon request.
For more information, contact Marge at

Community Kitchen. This is the first soup kitchen in Columbus. Donations can be made at the rear of the building at 640 South Ohio Street.
Hours: Monday – Friday 8:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m. and on Saturdays from 8:30 a.m. to 10:00 a.m.
Will take anything except eggplant, unusual herbs, peas, chard, and turnips. They prefer bulk amounts so that they can make a whole dish out of it. Smith Farms regularly donates food here.
Sorting: Preferably sorted, but need not be bagged.
Provides tax receipts.
For more information: Ask for Marilyn Oberting at 252-6428.

Holy Name Soup Kitchen. Donations can be made at 57 South Grubb Street (off West Broad Street). Go to the front door. There is a blue cart by the door.
Hours: Monday – Friday 6:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m. You may need to pound on the door after 12:30 because that’s when the doors are locked.
Will take anything.
Sorting: Not necessary.
Provides tax receipts. Can be provided if you wait or it will be mailed to you (if you provide names and addresses).
For more information: Phone: 461-9444.

Mid-Ohio Food Bank. Donations can be made at its new location at 3960 Brookham Drive in Grove City. Take I-71 South to the Stringtown Road/Exit 100 and take the very first right after you leave the exit onto Springtown Road onto Marlanne Drive. You will pass Brookham Drive to the left and then turn left past the large Agency sign. Pull up to the four garage doors and go into the regular/entry door to the left of those doors to tell them that you have a produce donation. They will help you unload your car, weigh your produce and give you a receipt.
Hours: Monday – Friday 8:00 a.m. until 4:30 p.m.
Will take anything.
Sorting: Not necessary, but they prefer that the food be delivered in banana boxes (which you can get from your friendly local grocer) or empty copy paper boxes.
Provides tax receipts. MOFB will weigh your donation on the spot and give you a receipt.
For more information: Call Lori Coleman at 274-7770.

Our Lady of Guadalupe Center. This is a food pantry at 441 Industry Drive, Columbus, Ohio 43204. This is a little tricky because there is no street sign. It is located in the Valley View Commerce Park of office buildings. It is a one-story, long white building across the street from the ODFJS West Opportunity Center.
Hours: Wednesday– Thursday 9:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. Tuesdays: 11:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.
Will take anything.
Sorting: Preferably sorted and bagged separately.
Provides tax receipts. You’ll have to fill out the receipt yourself, so it would be a good idea to weigh your produce before dropping it off.
For more information or to schedule a drop-off: Call Alma Santos at 340-7061. The population served by the Center is mostly Latino and Hispanic.

LifeCare Alliance a/k/a Meals on Wheels a/k/a Groceries To Go a/k/a Cancer Clinic a/k/a Project Open Hand. Life Care Alliance has recently consolidated the food pantry operations of the Cancer Clinic and Project Open Hand (which serves the HIV community). It also runs Congregational Dining Centers and Carrie’s Café for ambulatory senior citizens (who do not yet need meals on wheels). Donations can be made 670 Harmon Avenue. Use the pantry entrance between the two handicapped parking spaces. It’s best to call ahead.
Hours: Monday, Wednesday – Friday 9:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m. (There are staff there on Tuesdays, but they are usually stocking shelves and unloading trucks).
Will take anything.
Sorting: Not necessary, but helpful and they prefer that it be washed
Provides tax receipts. Will mail receipts. At drop off, donations should be identified by donor's name and address, product being donated and weight of each product.
For more information: Contact Maurice Elder or Chuck Walters at 670 Harmon Avenue, Columbus, OH 43223 at 298-8334.

NNEMAP Food Pantry. 1064 North High Street, Columbus, Ohio. (In the Short North. In an abandoned Church at the corner of High and Third. It is in the basement of the same building of Directions for Youth. When coming from the parking lot (which is on the north side of the building), you can take a door to the basement on the east side of the building which does not have a number or butterfly on it. There is a white bell on this door on the east side of the building which you can ring for assistance, but you should come down to the basement on the west side of the building).
Hours: Monthly 1st-19th: M-W-F 8:45 a.m. – 11:45 a.m. Monthly 20th-31st: M-F 8:45 a.m. – 11:45 a.m.
Will Take: anything.
Sorted: Not necessary, but it would be nice to have it bagged and sorted.
Provides tax receipts: Upon request. Please have value ready to be inserted.
For more information: Call Roy Clark (an old friend) at 297-0533.

Broad Street Presbyterian Food Pantry, 760 East Broad Street (at the corner of Broad and Garfield -- about 2 blocks east of I-71. There is parking in the back).
Hours: 9- noon Monday through Friday (but arrangements can be made to open at 8 a.m.) and on Saturdays from 8:30 - 11:30 a.m.
Will take: anything, especially greens and tomatoes
Sorted: not necessary
Provides tax receipts upon request
Distribution: Clients can help themselves to as much of each type of produce as is available.
For more information: call Cathy at 203-2544. The pantry serves approximately 700 families/month (which is an increase over last year).

Neighborhood Services, Inc. 1950 North Fourth Street (at the corner of 18th Avenue).
Hours: Monday – Thursday 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
Will take: anything
Sorted: not necessary
Provides tax receipt: by mail 10-14 days later upon request
For more information: Call Cheryl at 297-0592 or email at This pantry serves about 25 families each day.

R.J. Hairston Community Outreach Pantry. 1441 Brentnell Avenue.
Hours 6:30-7:30 p.m. on Tuesdays and 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays.
Sorted: Not necessary.
Provides tax receipts upon request.
For more information, call Michelle Moody at 252-6228.

This list is not exhaustive and will be updated as additional information is provided. Feel free to let me know if you have information about other organizations which take garden produce and I will add them. You can find additional Central Ohio pantries on the Ample Harvest website.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Super Stoddart Kids Gardening Club

This year, we are trying to have a more organized youth gardening program at the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden. In the past, we have simply assigned a plot to interested youth gardeners and then provided one-on-one tutoring. However, with few exceptions, most kids did not stick with it once the weather got hot. Last year, none of them did (and then I had the glamorous job of hoeing the plots back into submission, replanting them, weeding and watering them, and then harvesting the produce all by myself for food pantries (when, magically, the kids showed back up wanting some)). I had planned to simply have all of them share one plot this year in order to minimize the inconvenience. However, then we were blessed to have so much in the way of donations and had assigned all of the plots by mid-April. So, then I tried to start a 4-H club (which would hopefully focus on gardening). Unfortunately, not enough parents would agree to sign the mandatory forms. So, we’re doing something a little less formal instead.

On most Monday evenings, a group of about 15 kids meet in the new annex, where we have built four raised beds for the kids. We also have a larger plot in the center of the Garden that is shared by a few children (most of whom are in the same family). Surprisingly, four boys have agreed to share one raised bed, where we are experimenting with square foot gardening. One of our original youth gardeners (from 2009 and 2010) had moved away, but is visiting the neighborhood this summer for the purpose of raising vegetables. Cathy’s daughter, Hope, has one bed and two new girls share another bed.

Hope and the boys have been among our most motivated gardeners this year.  Hope is experimenting with exotic artichokes.  The boys showed up before the beds were even built asking which one would be theirs.  They even helped me unload top soil for a while (until the sandbox (below) became too much of a temptation). 

At our first meeting, Barb read the younger kids a fairy story as they sat around our fairy garden. Then, we had those kids write a story about fairies. The older kids planted seedlings and seeds in their beds and made charts of what they had planted. Both of these activities involved learning to spell the vegetables and flowers. We ended by having the kids give oral reports about what they had learned that night and then having refreshments (of fresh fruit) and berry picking along the fence.

We were going to build a scarecrow for our second meeting, but it was too wet (having just finished raining about ten minutes before our starting time). Instead, I had them all draw pictures of a potential scarecrow face and then vote on the favorite picture to become the face of our new scarecrow.

Last week, we planted water bottles (which Cathy brought) next to their thirsty plants and discussed water conservation and how to water plants during a drought. We also started some pole beans around a bamboo teepee. Then, we built a scarecrow (which, in my humble opinion, could use a hat). Again, we had them write a story about what the scarecrow’s life would be like in the Garden and then give oral reports at the end about what, if anything, they had learned. I treated them with bananas at the end.

This week, we will be doing some more planting, discussing fertilizer and the science behind seeds and then maybe building a compost bin.  We also need to vote on a name for the scarecrow.

Of course, it hasn’t all been smooth sailing. Just before our kick-off meeting, someone came in and completely destroyed the Fairy Garden. It was reported to be a neighborhood boy who threw all of the items out of the Garden (including into the alley), messed up the sandbox and pulled plants out of the beds of some of the SACG gardeners. We had to put the locks back on the gates to make clear that the kids should not be in the Garden without an adult present. Nonetheless, less than two hours later, three boys had jumped the fence or gates and were back in the garden examining the Fairy Garden (which had been reconstituted as best they could by some very young neighborhood girls). I explained to the boys that they could not be there without an adult and if it happened again, I’d prosecute them for trespassing. The other kids formed a “secret” Garden Watch society to keep eyes on the Garden and report any mischief. Barb came back and replaced some of the destroyed items (like the cute fairy house) with a birdhouse.

Girls welcoming our new lawnmower donated by Mike Watkins

Last week, someone took a few of the bean poles and then two more poles disappeared Saturday afternoon (leaving nothing for the beans to grow up). Apparently, the boys believed that the poles would make good rapiers for sword fighting and left the beans to fend for themselves. Sadly, the poles did not survive their pretend battles and shattered pretty quickly.

Also, Ms. Anthony complained about finding youngsters on her property during restricted hours playing in the rain barrels (thus, wasting precious water during this dreadful drought). She chased them away and spoke with their supervising adult.

Then, Barb generously donated a sandbox for the toddlers of adult gardeners to play while their parents gardened. However, it had become the neighborhood gathering place for all of the kids whenever the gates are open. They do not come to garden or to learn, but to play in the sand box. (There is no playground in the area). It’s hard to get them to focus on anything else sometimes, so we have to close the box during youth meetings. It’s also been an effort to get them to clean up after themselves after they’ve played. However, we are making progress.

The kids still come by on non-meeting days to pick berries and ask what we are doing. Cathy is almost always present during the Monday meetings as the voice of sanity to keep me from hurting anyone. (Patience is obviously not one of my virtues). I always keep a super-soaker handy (fully loaded with water, of course) to defend myself when the kids get out of hand:-) This has had the effect of encouraging mischievous behavior and trolling in the trunk of my car to find my weapon of wet destruction. What’s a girl to do?

Friday, June 22, 2012

Central Ohio Community Gardens Are Currently Seeking Volunteers

2012 Season Opening Day Volunteers
There was a time – before this summer – when I was known as Rebecca of Sunnybrook Lane. Now, I am the grouchy garden lady. When I kibitz with other community garden managers, we all express frustration with how overwhelmed we are and how we could be doing so much more – and be more patient with the neighborhood kids -- if we only had more volunteers to help us with the very glamorous work of planting, weeding, watering and harvesting. It was a recurring theme during our last Hub Garden meeting in December, when I ask other community gardens how I could help them, and even at the last GCGC meeting. Like many of you, I post volunteer opportunities on the Garden’s website, promote the volunteer and gardening opportunities in This Week Community News, post items in the church bulletin, post on volunteer websites (like Earth Day and Hands On Central Ohio) and reach out to area non-profits. You already know that Urban Connections has provided volunteers to help on occasion. As for my other efforts, I only get some phone calls in response to website postings and newspaper articles, but no actual volunteers. So, to maintain my mental health and reclaim my sunny disposition, I thought it would be worthwhile to find an expert to provide some tips about how to improve our collective recruitment, management and retention of volunteers.  
2010 Season Opening Day Volunteers

Hands On Central Ohio (f/k/a First Link) is part of a national organization that exists to link people who want to volunteer with non-profit organizations that need volunteers. In addition, it also provides lots of training specifically for non-profit organizations on a variety of topics, including volunteer recruitment, management and retention. As it happens, I’m friends with the Vice President of Training and Volunteer Services, Beth Eck. Beth has provided some tips (some of which are summarized below) and is willing to provide a 60-90 minute FREE seminar to community garden leaders summarizing best and worst practices from non-profit organizations all over the country. (Email me if you would be interested in attending this FREE seminar and I will work with those who express an interest to schedule a time and place).  
2009 Upward Bound Volunteers

According to a study of 500 non-profit organizations conducted by the Journal of Volunteer Administration for its Fall/Summer 1999 issue, many organizations lose potential volunteers by making a poor first impression in the first contact with the potential volunteer:   
  • 50% did not receive “How can I help you?”
  • 70% did not get the name of the person answering the phone
  • 25% not referred to the right person
  • 48% asked for call back information
  • 30% were called back
  • 16% not thanked for calling the agency
One of Beth’s tips: Don’t bowl alone. Stop spending so much time trolling for lone-wolf volunteers and instead spend your limited time more wisely by working with organizations that can supply small groups of volunteers or have a volunteer work ethic (like Young Professional Groups, Rotary Clubs, Alumni groups, clubs, etc.) where their members want to volunteer together as a social outing. Yes, there is work involved in networking with these groups.
2010 Earth Day Litter Pick-Up Volunteers

 Have you tried to target your recruitment efforts to a particular demographic group? Different age groups use different media and respond to different motivations. You cannot rely on one-size-fits-all recruitment methods. Also, ask your volunteers why they volunteer and what would make it more meaningful, how it could be easier for them, and how they could help you recruit even more volunteers.
Did you know that:
• 65% of volunteers are episodic (less than 100 hours per year) 
• Most non-volunteers fear the time commitment required for volunteering
2010 Season Closing Day Volunteers

Of course, it is easier to maintain an existing volunteer than to recruit a new one. These are some of the most common mistakes organizations make in managing volunteers: 
  • Fail to ‘strike while the iron is hot”
  • Fail to provide effective orientation, training
  • Fail to provide support
  • Fail to treat volunteers fairly
  • Fail to foster two way communication
  • Fail to be inclusive with newer volunteers
  • Fail to welcome and utilize their multiple skills and new ideas  
    2012 Urban Connections Volunteers
  • Fail to provide meaningful jobs
  • Fail to empower them
  • Fail to connect their actions with critical needs
  • Fail to recognize their effort
 Beth has Three Keys to Maintaining Volunteer Commitment:

1. Effective matching  
  • Why do they want to volunteer HERE?
  • What skills can be utilized?
  • What are they interested in doing?
2 On-going support 
  • Understand the job
  • Support in performing the work by forming a organization/volunteer partnership to succeed
  • Provide opportunities for leadership and expect project ownership
  • What do they do when something goes wrong?
 3. Express gratitude in a variety of ways
  •  Communication at all stages of the relationship

Remember, people are loyal to other people (and you want to be one of those people who instill loyalty). Respect and social interaction builds loyalty. Policies and procedures are necessary, but you will be more successful in concentrating on the interpersonal experience.

Again, these are just some of the useful nuggets that could help you improve the volunteer recruitment and retention efforts of your community garden. If you are interested in hearing more useful tips (and identification of other potential mistakes), email me at and if enough people respond, I’ll set up a Free seminar for Central Ohio community gardens.

 If you have read this far and are not managing a community garden, I hope that you realize that we need your help. There are community gardens all over Central Ohio and likely is one near where you live or work. Contact the garden (or just show up at the garden and ask how you can help). You need not come every week or even every month. You can work for an hour or more. You do not need to know anything about how deep to plant a seed, about how to tell the difference between a weed and a flower, or about how much fertilizer to apply. Any time you can devote will help us accomplish something that otherwise would have been left undone. Many hands make light work. 

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Why Raspberries Have Thorns

We are nearing the end of raspberry season at the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden. I have been able to harvest about a pint each evening from my plot alone and – after examining our entire exterior fence on Saturday morning -- even had enough to donate almost a pound to Lutheran Social Service’s food pantry on Saturday afternoon. Last year, I froze almost a half dozen quarts of berries and made jam, but I will fall well short of that this year. However, I cannot blame that on the drought because we have had more berries than ever this year. (Even our newly transplanted seedlings bore fruit despite the lack of rain or care). Unlike last year, the neighborhood kids are wild about berries and come over every day to pick them from our exterior fence. I’ve even started giving them containers so that they can take berries home to wash. Even with this much interest, we’ve had an alarming number of ripe berries shrivel on the vine from lack of harvesting.

The kids – particularly the younger ones – are intimidated by the many thorns. My arms, hands and ankles are a bloody and scarred mess of thorn scratches. It takes me almost an extra hour each evening that I pick berries to both find them and to gingerly harvest them while trying to avoid the thorns. Even though it is dangerous and time consuming, I think harvesting berries is worth it because black raspberries are among my favorite foods on earth and they are highly nutritious. Their dark color makes a great dye (and was used by the USDA to stamp meat) and is associated with high anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory and other beneficial properties. Among other things,

  •  Studies at Ohio State University showed a 60–80 % reduction in colon tumors in rats fed a diet with black raspberries added.
  • Studies at Ohio State University showed an 80% reduction in esophageal cancers in mice fed a 5-10% diet of black raspberries.
Last night, one of our young girls was complaining about the thorns. I had to wonder why they have thorns when our sweet blueberries do not. (The blueberries are also a hit with the kids, but they are not as plentiful as the raspberries). This morning I had an epiphany while looking into my backyard at my lonely blueberry bush. Another damn squirrel.

As many of you know, one of the reasons I started the SACG was because the neighborhood squirrels here in Bexley eat most of my tomatoes every summer. I have an oak tree in my back yard and there is a walnut tree a few houses down the street. (They climb to the top of my trees and drop the walnuts onto my patio to break them open. They are smart and dangerous). They have no natural predators here and they are the bane of every backyard gardener and winter bird-watcher in Bexley. (If you’re ever stumped for conversation with someone from Bexley, bring up our over abundant squirrel population. That is virtually guaranteed to create a reaction like mine). Particularly in dry hot summers like this one, they pick my tomatoes, sit up on my privacy fence to mock me, take a few bites, drop the tomato and then move on. Occasionally, they will simply take a bite while the fruit is still on the vine. It is very, very frustrating. Happily, there are no squirrels on Stoddart Avenue. (There are plenty of possums and a freakish number of groundhogs and stray cats, but no squirrels).

Perhaps by now you have figured out the connection between raspberry thorns and my tomato thieves. Yes, that damn squirrel ate every single blueberry (ripe or not) off my six-year old blueberry bush this morning. (Luckily, I had grabbed a few as they ripened over the last couple of days). I also have red, white and black raspberries in my back yard, but the squirrels leave them alone. Thorns deter pesky varmints like squirrels from eating all of the good fruit. (They are also pretty handy at deterring human varmits from climbing or knocking down our fence).  So, this morning, despite my many unsightly scars, I have become very fond of raspberry thorns and I hope you are, too.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Another Step Closer to Demolishing SACG Neighborhood Eyesore

A few days ago, Cathy and I heard that the eyesore buildings next to the SACG could be demolished as early as this Fall.  This is great news for the neighborhood.

When Betty and I surveyed the neighbors back in 2009 before we broke ground for the SACG, a few (like Barb & Frank) indicated that it was a bigger priority for the improvement of the neighborhood to demolish the building next to the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden at the corner of Main and Stoddart. While it looks almost normal from East Main Street, the second floor has collapsed in the back. When I first saw it, it reminded me of pictures of Beirut during its civil war. I imagined crackheads living up there and shooting at us while we gardened. We heard that it had sheltered prostitutes and their clients (which I observed once). At the time, there was a fence around the collapsed section and the construction debris back there and a tree that partially hid the eyesore from view in the summer. It collected litter and the groundhogs and possums have also found shelter there (in between foraging at the Garden). It is impossible to feel proud about living in this neighborhood when this is what you are forced to observe every time you drive onto Main Street.  There is a lot of loittering in and around the building. I have no doubt that it has deterred additional residential investment in the neighborhood.

When we broke ground in 2009, we observed the building’s owner working several weekends in a row in the heat to patch the roof. I imagined that he had his life savings invested in the building and was trying desperately to save what he could of the building until he could sell it to someone who could afford to tear it down and develop the lot properly. However, then we did not see him for the rest of the summer and we only saw him a few times in 2010. Meanwhile, I was being encouraged, even pushed, from several quarters to take action to have the building demolished. On the other hand, another good neighbor was interested in rehabilitating the building for commercial space and a day care. (I thought that was unrealistic). In any event, I have been reluctant to aggressively pursue the demolition of that building. Among other things, we have been adversely possessing part of that lot (with our compost bins and shed). The last thing I wanted to do was poke a sleeping bear that might evict us when we were so dependent on his good nature. Also, while ugly, that building also protects the Garden from more prying eyes and creates a favorable microclimate for us.

Last year, I began asking our contact at the City about condemning the property so that it could be demolished. The second floor has continued to collapse and falling debris has become a hazard for us. I was encouraged to convince the owner to donate it the City (which could then afford to demolish it) so that he could avoid fines, court orders and more taxes. I passed that information on to an interested neighbor who knew the owner. Then, last Fall, the City took ownership and possession and hope was rekindled in the neighborhood that the building might be demolished. However, I was less convinced because the City invested in painting fake windows on the front of the building (which, although an improvement, is not something an owner does if it intends to tear the building down in the near future).

This January, Cathy told me that Urban Connections was interested in developing the property once the building was demolished and I set up a meeting for her with the City’s Development Department to obtain information about what would be involved. He tried to convince her to buy the property (and building) for a small sum and then tear it down. She still needed to raise money just to build something and it was out of the question to also demolish it. (I later found out that U/C also wanted to develop the two lots upon which the SACG is located and the lots where the Block Watch flower garden is located, so this was becoming a dicey issue all the way around. U/C supports the SACG and apparently wanted to help us relocate to another vacant lot on Stoddart).

In the meantime, another good neighbor became a little irritated when I mentioned this development because she had dreamed for years of rehabbing this building and was put out that I was now working to tear it down to benefit another entity. (I tried to tactfully point out that she could never obtain bank financing to do what she desired, but then she began discussing private financing). Over the next few months, she became resigned to the fact that the building needed to be demolished. One of our Board members wants to keep the building there because it partially obscures our Garden from Main Street, but that seems pretty selfish to me. Nonetheless, the interest of these two neighbors in that and our other lots has made all discussions about our new fruit orchard somewhat hilarious as we now have two neighbors that – without having funding in place to build anything – are not comfortable with us planting trees on any lots that they want to commercially develop some day.

As events developed, the initial plans which U/C had for the lots was tempered by learning that another nearby organization had similar plans for its property (which would only require some less expensive remodeling instead of the demolition and construction of new structures). So, U/C is considering other options, but still has an interest in developing the property and is very focused on getting this building demolished for the betterment of the neighborhood. Amusingly, Cathy heard at one point from someone nearby on the southside that the decision had already been made to demolish the building and to give the lot the SACG. While I thought that rumor was hilarious, Cathy did not.

In April, Cathy and I organized a letter-writing campaign to City Councilman Zach Klein -- Chair of the Development Committee --  to make the demolition of this eyesore building a greater priority for the City. I also ran into Councilperson Tyson (who chairs the Budget Committee) by chance (when I was uncharacteristically clean and showered), bent her ear a bit about the eyesore and followed up in writing and with pictures.  Councilman Klein's office informed us just before Memorial Day that they agreed with us that the building should be demolished.  This week, Development Director John Turner informed us that Council had on Monday allocated $2.2M to fund demolition of unsafe buildings like ours across the City. The City had been using federal funds, but those funds were limited to demolishing residential structures, not commercial ones like our eyesore. Moreover, there are two other commercial buildings to be demolished that are in even worse shape than our eyesore. However, he was hopeful that by next month, the City would be able “to contract with private companies to perform the work and have started the process to competitively bid the environmental testing, asbestos abatement, demolition contractor, and other contracts necessary to perform the work.” He hoped to have a notice to proceed in August.

Cathy is absolutely ecstatic (as she should be after meeting with and gaining the support of the pastor of virtually every church within a mile of the SACG).  

Mr. Turner encouraged us to work with the Near East Area Commission to shorten the Commission’s process because it is “allowed 60 days to comment on the proposed demolition and will typically hold three meetings on the permit.” Cathy immediately contacted the Commission to alert its Chair about our efforts and received a favorable response. The Chair indicated the fastest way to getting Commission approval would be to have the City’s Code Enforcement Supervisor obtain a structural engineering report confirming the unsoundness of the building. “[W]e can make a recommendation to the City to include the property on the list for demolition. If the structure is declared unsound that would be the fastest route to getting it razed.”  Cathy wasted no time contacting the Code Enforcement Supervisor as well. The Commission also wants to hear from concerned neighbors.   Once this issue makes in onto a Commission agenda, Cathy and I will attempt to organize the concerned neighbors into sharing their views in support of demolishing the building. (I have already forwarded Mr. Turner’s response to a few interested neighbors).

All of this is very good news for the Stoddart Avenue neighborhood. So, I am cautiously optimistic that our next door eyesore will be demolished in the Fall (hopefully after we are finished planting and harvesting). Of course, there are likely to be delays. There is also no guarantee that other commercial properties won’t be acquired by the City in the meantime and given a higher priority for demolition. In the meantime, we have a neighborhood boy who likes to climb (a future parkour adventurer) and has been trying to climb up the construction debris into the second floor of the building.

I do not think that there is any realistic chance in this economic climate of commercial development on this property in the near future. I have told the City that the SACG could conceivably put a fruit orchard on the property (which would require an outstanding demolition process and lots of top soil and compost). I have begun discussing with our gardeners the possibility of putting split rail fencing and knockout rose bushes along Main Street to deter trespassing and to improve the appearance of the lot.  Next year, if the building has been demolished, the newly vacant lot is likely to mirror the flower garden across the street tended by the Block Watch.   Supportive of the SACG, Mr. Turner has indicated that the City hopes “to add this third parcel to make it one of our larger community gardens.” For that to happen, we will need additional funding, a lot more volunteer support, more gardeners and more caffeine.  As the saying goes, be careful what you ask for. 

Who knows what the future will bring? Keep your fingers crossed and say a prayer for everyone involved.  This process has moved faster than I anticipated and we could be looking at an entirely different landscape this time next year.  Notwithstanding our lack of rain this year, the Lord seems to be smiling on this process.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Heroes of the Day: SACG Benefits from Urban Connections Volunteer Invasion

Can you tell that your Faithful Garden Manager is more relaxed today? Yes, the tiny bit of rain we received on Monday helped a bit by putting a few hundred gallons into our tank. However, another giant weight was lifted from my shoulders by the Urban Connections volunteers who visited the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden yesterday. They hoed the overgrown weeds in four plots, planted squash and rows of beans, and moved the giant wood chip pile from inside the annex.

It’s time for the annual Urban Connections Vacation Bible School. This brings a lot of out-of-town volunteers to stay in the neighborhood for a week and help with all of the youth activities, like a scavenger hunt, a skating excursion, swimming and, yesterday, a visit to Ohio Caverns.  Six of the volunteers -- from the Dover Ohio Alliance Church -- stayed behind to help Cathy and me at the SACG in the afternoon. Luckily, we had beautiful weather (unlike the scorcher from two years ago). I put together a long to-do list and put weeding the four abandoned plots at the top of that list. They did an awesome job and filled three of our compost bins to the top with all of the weeds they pulled. While four of the ladies pulled weeds, two of the teens volunteered to shovel and move wood chips from the annex. (You may recall that we had six loads delivered when we really only needed two). Now we have room for another raised bed and/or a picnic table. While they pulled weeds and shoveled chips, I pulled the pernicious morning glory weeds that had started growing in the paths and Cathy planted tomato seedlings (with compost I brought from home).

Once the weeds had been pulled, two of the young people planted squash and rows and rows of beans. Unlike my general practice, we did not plant them in the mound, but instead, planted them at the bottom of a trench so that we could direct any water directly to the seeds and maximize any rain which falls. Their volunteer leader was then tasked with transplanting the irises and day lilies we received from Epworth United Methodist Church last week, cosmos seeds that I saved from last year and gladiola bulbs I purchased from Strader's Nursery earlier in the Spring. She also worked on weeding our three flower beds. Then, while the volunteers went back to shower in time for their next excursion, Cathy and I planted the rest of my pepper seedlings and the bell pepper seedlings donated by Oakland Nursery through GCGC. (That was more than two flats of peppers we put into the ground yesterday).

After Cathy left to shower in preparation for U/C’s evening activities, I watered in the new seedlings and our cherry trees and started spreading straw (which Cathy had donated). Then I watered the neighbor and food pantry plots and then my plot as the kids returned from their afternoon excursion and came over to the Garden to play in the sandbox and water their plots. Cristen watered the group kids’ plot and Tevon watered the boys’ bed. There was a vast improvement in the kids cleaning up after themselves when they put away the sandbox.

With all of the capital improvement projects we’ve undertaken at the SACG this year (with the addition of the annex and building and filling of seven raised beds), I had fallen behind in weeding and planting the abandoned plots. Most of the food will go towards our food pantry donation, but some of it we may try to sell at nearby Farmer’s Markets as a fundraiser for the SACG.

This, of course, does not mean that we’re all caught up in major work projects. I still have some more beans and tomatoes to plant, more straw to spread, rain barrels to reconfigure (while they are still empty and can be moved), a compost bin to assemble, and limestone moons and half moons to bury in our paths. Then, I can return to resting in my hammock on non-SACG days, sipping a cocktail and reading Game of Thrones. . . . . . Feel free to stop by to lend a hand.

Urban Connections is an urban ministry on the Near East side of Columbus, Ohio. It began in 1999 with a Vacation Bible School on a vacant lot run by volunteers. They have grown from that small VBS to an organization committed to seeing growth in our neighborhood. Its mission is to connect people with Christ and each other and to develop our community together. Currently their ministry programs are based at a house on Fairwood Avenue – just one block from the SACG. I learned about UC in 2009 when Betty and I first visited the neighborhood to invite them to join the Garden. Several mothers mentioned UC ran a great program for their children. UC helps the neighborhood children with their homework, has computers (with internet connections), has a weekly Bible Study and dinner for each age group, assigns an adult or college-age mentor to each kid and otherwise organizes fun activities for the kids (such as the basketball court they built on an adjoining lot). Like most busy non-profit organizations, they are always looking for more volunteers, etc. to work with the neighborhood kids.