Friday, February 28, 2014

2014 Gardening Season Starts on April 12

[Editor's Note:  With just under 2 weeks to go before our Opening Day, we have only 2 plots left (and 6 raised beds).  Once those plots and beds are taken, gardeners will be placed on a wait list because every year we have gardeners sign up who do not show up for our Opening Work Day.  You snooze; you lose:-)]

Even though it seems that March will be entering Central Ohio like a lion, the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden is planning to open in six weeks on April 12, 2014.  Gardeners who are interested in reserving their own plot to grow their own vegetables, fruits, herbs and flowers should complete, sign and return an Application along with $10/plot (preferably by check made payable to the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden).  Families in the Stoddart Avenue neighborhood are eligible for a full scholarship if the fee presents a financial hardship. 

Gardeners’ participation is subject to the SACG Garden Rules as well as some rules by the City of Columbus (prohibiting, for instance, being in the Garden at night, and bringing alcohol onto Garden property, etc.).  Gardeners are also encouraged to donate a portion of their produce to area food pantries and shelters, like Faith Mission, Lutheran Social Services and the Salvation Army.
2013 SACG Opening Day Volunteers
Joining the SACG is not terribly time consuming, but Gardeners should plan to help set out the Garden on Saturday, April 12, 2014 (with a rain/make-up date on Saturday, April 26, 2014) and to close the Garden (probably on Saturday, November 8, 2014).  Gardeners should also volunteer for three chores to perform for one month over the summer (like watering flowers, tending the food pantry plot, pulling weeds in the paths, mowing our lawn, picking up litter, etc.) 

We will start working at 9:30 a.m. on April 9, 2014 to flip and spread compost, spread wood chips on the Garden paths and around the fence rows, transplant raspberry bushes, hang some fence and possibly plant fruit trees.   The more the merrier because many hands make light work.  You need not reserve a plot if you would just like to volunteer.   Refreshments will be provided courtesy of Whole Foods. 


2012 SACG Opening Day Volunteers
Unlike past years, gardeners may begin planting as soon as they would like – even before our opening day.   (However, even assuming that this weekend’s snow melts by next weekend, most of you will want to wait a few weeks before planting early Spring crops like   potatoes, onions, leeks, peas, lettuce, kale, spinach and greens.   I’ll be starting pepper seeds (indoors) and sweet potato slips next weekend and will share any extra seedlings with gardeners come May.
So, if you or someone you know likes to get your hand dirty and grow your own food, you are welcome to join us at the SACG.  Plots will be assigned on a first-come-first-served basis, with preference being given to gardeners from last year who volunteered at the opening and closing work days.

AND, although there are no guarantees, the Farmer's Almanac is NOT predicting a never-ending winter for Central Ohio this year.  Happy Days!  It is supposed to be a warmer and slightly drier Spring.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Countdown to Spring and 2014 Community Gardening Season

Even though Spring is still more than a month away and there is almost a foot of snow still on the ground, there is a lot going on in Central Ohio in preparation for the upcoming gardening season.  Last night, the City held a meeting for the approximately 50 area community gardens, like the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden, which are located on Land Bank property.  John Turner, Director of the City Redevelopment Office, had a very informative powerpoint presentation  (prepared by Graduate Student Intern Seth Brehm) for the 20 attendees.  The Land Bank also has vacant lots available that were community gardens in the past and just require a new organization/group to tend them.

Grant Funding.  Many community gardens need funding for capital improvements, like hooking up to city water, compost and soil improvements, soil testing, sheds, tools, raised beds, fruit trees, and fencing, etc.  As in past years, the City of Columbus and Franklin County have allocated funding to support local community gardens.  Until February 24, gardens can apply for grants up to $4,000 through the Columbus Foundation.  The checks will be cut in early April.  Last year, this program funded 35 out of the 66 applicants, so the process is very competitive.   Unlike past years, this year’s application will be in MS Word format instead of pdf, but is otherwise the same.   If you have questions, feel free to contact Barb Seckler at the Columbus Health Department.  Scotts Miracle-Gro will also be donating soil products (like garden soil, manurre and mulch).  Scoring for the grant applications will consider:

·        Completeness of the application

·        The capacity of the garden to complete the process, based on years of experience, number of volunteers, etc.

·        The description of the project justification/need and target audience

·        Whether the description of the project goals is related to the description of the project justification/need

·        The clarity of the budget spreadsheet

·        The uniqueness and excellence of the project

Funding priorities favor requests for basic needs, rather than aesthetic improvements, like benches, or trellises.  The grants will not fund compensation for staffing needs.
Gardens which are not tax exempt under IRC §501(c)(3) will need to have a fiscal agent which is tax exempt.   This will require the garden to have a relationship (preferably documented in writing) with a public charity that will accept and disperse the grant check and will sign the grant application and agreement.  Gardens without such a relationship can contact Julie Smith at the Rebuilding Together Central Ohio (aka the Tool Library) for assistance.

Clean Turn is again willing to deliver on Earth Day (Tuesday, April 22) the soil donations to community gardens  which receive grant funding.  James will get the grant list and contact you to arrange for delivery times.  You do not need to contact him.  However, the community garden must provide the necessary volunteers to unload the bags.   We were lucky last year that the Growing Hearts and Hands CG arranged for Alvis House volunteers to unload  our bags for us at the SACG.

Side Lot Purchases.  The Land Bank in the past has been more than happy to sell properties to adjacent property owners in order to improve the neighborhood.   However, they have slightly expanded the program to include non-profit organizations -- like community gardens -- which have already benefitted the property and neighbors who live within 400 feet of the property.   Technically, the property must be sold at fair market value or appraised value (but I've seen vacant lots listed at approximately $500).  To benefit from this program, the purchaser must be among  three types of buyers: 
  1. Adjacent property owner: An owner whose property shares a property line with an undeveloped Land Bank Parcel;
  2. Property owner within same block: An owner whose property is within the same block, across an alley, or within 400 feet of an undeveloped Land Bank Parcel; 
 3. Non-profit community organizations: A 501(c)(3) organization which successfully licensed and improved a property as a community garden or beautification project for a minimum of one year. 
 
Mow to Own. A new initiative at the Land Bank involves the opportunity of neighbors and 501(c)(3) non-profit organizations (which can include community gardens) to purchase vacant lots in their neighborhood.   The City is precluded by statute and ordinance from donating the property, but it can sell it at fair market value.  The City will reduce the purchase price by the amount of investment made by the group/neighbor to improve the lot and tending the lot.  Of course, purchasing the lot comes with the obligation to purchase liability insurance and pay property taxes . . . .    To benefit from this new program, you should:

  Successfully license and maintain a land bank vacant lot for a minimum of one year;
  Be an existing stakeholder within the same neighborhood or area commission boundaries as the land bank vacant lot to be acquired ;
  Have no delinquent real estate or personal property taxes in Franklin County ; 
  Have no history of property maintenance, nuisance, building, and/or zoning code violations;
 Have no delinquent utility accounts;
  Provide evidence that the nonprofit organization has the ability to complete the proposed project, including maintenance and improvements, in a timely manner in compliance with all city, state and other applicable regulatory requirements;
  Submit the required application with a proposal attached detailing the maintenance and/or improvements to be completed on the vacant lot;

  Pay a nonrefundable administrative fee of $175 (to show you are serious and have the capacity to complete the transaction);

  Pay the deed preparation fees, pro-rated property taxes, and transfer fees ;

  Complete all proposed maintenance and/or improvements on the vacant lot to be acquired, including required maintenance sufficient to satisfy the fair market value purchase price; and

  Understand that this option agreement is good for only two years (unless you convince the  City to extend it in writing). 

Catching Rain Water and Rototillers.  The Rebuilding Together of Central Ohio Tool Library had several great announcements.

·        Rototillers.  Late last year, the Columbus Foundation purchased several rototillers to be dedicated to area community gardens each Spring.  The Tool Library already owned a few which they would loan out to area residents and gardens on a first-come-first serve basis.  In the past, you could reserve the tillers, but, as you may recall from the SACG Opening Day last year, they went to a first-come-first-served basis (which can be very stressful when you only have so many volunteers available on a limited basis).  Now, community gardens can reserve these special tillers for the gardens during the Spring.  The Tool Library is also going to a digital reservation system (like is used by many area media libraries) so that you can reserve tools online in advance.  Whoo Hoo!

·        Catching the Rain System:   The Tool Library and the City already have a program to loan giant cisterns and rain barrels to community gardens to catch and store rain water.  However, some community gardens are not near any buildings with roofs or gutters to catch rain water.  Accordingly, Stephanie has spent the last year designing a system  (i.e., a slanted gazebo) to catch rain water for a rain barrel.  While the Tool Library will provide the materials, design and project leader to construct this gazebo, the garden must provide the volunteers necessary to dig the foundation and assemble the gazebo (which will be a temporary structure in compliance with the City Land Bank community garden license).   It is estimated that it would take about 6 hours to build it.

·        Trailers.  The Tool Library also announced that it has a trailer it can loan, but it has a hitch.

·        Cold Frames. The Tool Library also regularly receives donated windows (which can be used to build a cold frame) on a first-come-first-served basis.

 Announcements.  John explained that community gardens need to mow their lots every 2-3 weeks and get approval before adding structures.   Compost needs to be in bins.  He also recommended that we call Joe Sulak in the City's Forestry Department at  645-6648 when seeking delivery of recycled wood chips to use as mulch and to line paths, etc.  Joe will want our parcel number and address.  (I added that many tree-trimming companies are also willing to drop off wood chips if you give them enough notice since it saves them the trouble of driving them miles south of the City.  The SACG has greatly benefitted from such donations from both the City and private tree companies).   The City and the Tool Library are also working with OSU to offer free soil testing.  (I volunteered last night that CLC would conduct lead tests for $35, but it was really $45.  CLC will also test for other heavy metals for $190.  Land Bank lots which have not had extensive soil testing are required to utilized raised beds).

Brainstorming.  The City is very supportive of area community gardens and requested suggestions for how the City could be of even more assistance. These were a few of the suggestions:

·        Compost.  The City used to donate 20 yards of com-til and now doesn’t donate any.  In addition, the City’s facility stopped letting gardens and individuals pick up their own com-til (at a greatly reduced price from what can be purchased retail).   It was suggested that the City could make a giant pile available for community gardens to pick up on their own (like at Franklin Park Conservatory).  Also, the City could permit community gardens to pick up compost like it permits commercial businesses.

·        Water.  It would be extremely helpful for gardens to have improved and less expensive access to City water.  It costs approximately $1500 just to hook up to the City water system and an additional cost to purchase the water.   The City explained that the Water Utility is separate from the City and also charges the City for water it uses. 

·        Security.  Many gardens are having problems with their produce getting stolen.  One garden even moved its location this year because of the extent of the thefts.  I suggested security cameras would be helpful.  I also explained that the SACG has used black raspberry bushes around our garden to deter thieves and offered our extra seedlings to the other gardens to create their own edible barrier.

·        Greenhouses.  One garden suggested a central greenhouse where gardens could place their seedlings.  It will be time to start seeds in a few weeks, but most of us do not have the capacity to start seedlings.    I use a small, portable greenhouse on my patio.  Straders Garden Centers often generously donate lots of seedlings in June, but that is pretty late for planning purposes.

At last week’s GCGC meeting, there were a few announcements:
·        Whole Foods wants to provide greater support for community gardening. It provided refreshments for the meeting and is willing to partner with certain community gardeners to provide educational seminars on healthy eating.  This can include cooking demonstrations.  Call Tiffany Dixon at the Lane Avenue store for more information.
 
·        Next month’s meeting will be at Whole Foods and will again feature Dr. Darraugh from CLC Labs to discuss soil testing.

·        OSU Extension is also seeking to partner with community gardens in providing FREE seminars through its Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program.  EFNEP partners with local agencies and organizations to offer a series of small-group classes in a variety of settings.  Taught by EFNEP paraprofessionals who have undergone extensive training to teach nutrition to adults, they can schedule classes at your convenience.  All participants receive class materials, recipes and a certificate of completion.  This program – which is focused on households at 186% of the federal poverty level -- has already been rolled out in over 800 counties nationwide and reached more than 150,000 adults.  The Program is designed to help families make healthy food choices, manage food dollars, understand food labels, keep food safe, choose nutritious snacks, and balance a healthy diet with physical activity.   There are also youth seminars being lead by GCGC’s Peggy Murphy.

               Urban Connections and the SACG are hoping to sponsor these seminars this summer in the Stoddart Avenue neighborhood and so I spoke with Jennifer Dulaney at OSU yesterday.  There are 8  sessions, at least six of  which must be attended in order to receive the certificate of completion and a COSI pass for free admission for up to 8 people.   There are food tastings and takeaways provided at each hour-long session.  For instance, the sessions would look something like this:
·        Physical Activity – Attendees get a beach ball and pedometer to measure their daily walks.

·        Shopping smart – Attendees get a shopping bag and form shopping list booklet.

·        Vegetables and Fruits – Attendees will get a cook book and vegetable brush.

·        Whole grains – Attendees get a measuring cup and spoon.

·        Healthy Bones  -- Attendees get an exercise band and physical activity book.

·        Proteins and Food Safety – Attendees get a food thermometer.

·        Fast food and sugar – Attendees get a calendar of recipes and cook book.

·        Celebration – Attendees who attended at least six of the prior classes will receive a COSI pass and certificate of completion.