Monday, February 8, 2016

Christmas in February: 2016 Land Bank Community Garden Meeting

Com-Til Donated to SACG in 2009
February has not been good to me this year.  Until tonight.  I guess all of that bad karma was creating room for the good karma that came tonight at the annual Land Bank community garden meeting.  After years of pleading for the City to return to its prior largesse of donating free Com-Til to community gardens (like it did when the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden first started back in 2009), the City surprised us by letting us know that land bank community gardens can pick up as much Com-Til as they need this year.   Dancing like Chris Martin at the Super Bowl.

Seth Brehm – the City’s Land Bank Community Garden Coordinator (although this formal title is Development Specialist)  -- started off by telling us a little about two City initiatives from last year.  Branch Out Columbus involves the City’s efforts to put a tree nursery in every major neighborhood.    I didn’t ask where that nursery is on the Near East Side  . . .. .   However, I’d like to know where I can find a nearby grove of peach trees . . . . .There is also Urban Farmers of Central Ohio to promote larger scale agricultural operations than simple community gardens like the SACG.
He then moved on to initiatives promoting the purchase of land bank lots.  In the “side lot
application,” garden lots can be purchased if you are an adjacent property owner or a 501(c)(3) non-profit (i.e., charity) that is located in the neighborhood.  Under the Improve to Own (f/k/a Mow to Own), community gardens can purchase the lots on which their gardens are located:

·        For the full price, anyone can purchase a lot

·        For 50% credit towards the full price, anyone can improve the lot over any one-year period

·        For 100% credit towards the full price, an adjacent owner (and I think a charity in the neighborhood) can improve the property over a three-year period.

We chatted about the Tool Library’s new dues policies and how the City had ended its prior community garden project with it.  However, the City is negotiating with another non-profit to manage the same issues (i.e., voucher program and rain tanks like the 330 gallon tank loaned to the SACG).  Although Seth firmly refused to identify this new partner, it became apparent who it might be when he discussed other possible supporting activities that might become available to land bank community gardens this year.  Stay tuned.  In any event, the City still intends to give land bank community gardens one free fill-up this year (in case we have another drought or clogged gutters).   Although the City is still intending to supply free rain tanks this year as they become available, the rain catchment system program started by the Tool Library is in flux.  

The City is surprisingly still planning to have another $250 voucher program this year.  (I say “surprisingly” because I thought that lovely gift was biting the budget dust).   The plan is that this year, gardens can pick up their supplies at any Lowe’s store (rather than having to rent a truck and drive to  Grove City like last year).  Yea!   Also, the time frame will be extended.   And, Lowe’s is giving us the 5% discount  that it gives to its regular credit-card customers (like me) – which means that it really comes out to $262.    Like last year, we can only buy things that make a permanent improvement to the lots.  So no tools.   However, it may be expanded this year to permit us to buy any perennial plants (and maybe annual plants and seeds, too).    HOWEVER, there is a new catch this year.  The City still wants to know what we are growing.  They are not going to make us weigh and report how much food we grew (by type).  But, they want us to report how much land is under cultivation.  I think that they also want us to report how much of each type of food we plan to plant.  I’m not sure how that is in any way practical for a plot garden since we don’t know what we growing until we plant it and the gardeners are not required to keep me informed of how many rows or plants of what they plant.    But, I can easily report how much of our lot is under cultivation and identify what types of produce are being grown.   I just can't tell you how much of each type of produce is being grown.

Then Seth begins talking about some other issue and halfway down the slide there it is:  the City is going to donate as much Com-Til as we need.  No limit.   We need to go through Seth and cannot start until next week.    I could not be more excited.  I’ve been thinking about tracking down some nitrogen-rich manure compost to counter-act all of the shredded leaves we spread last Fall.  Now, I can strike that task off my list.   We can also pick up more top soil from Kurtz Brothers (although we will not be doing this at the SACG).

We also discussed getting wood chips.  Gardens are encouraged to first call Bill Dawson, before Seth.   However, most tree companies are happy to drop off wood chips to area community gardens (because it saves them a dumping fee and long trip to drop them off at the City's Jackson Pike facility (where Com-Til is made, Ohio Mulch or Kurtz Brothers).  Mike Donley has been generous to a bunch of us land bank gardens.  

The City is also considering providing scholarships to a number of community garden conferences and seminars, like the We Dig Ohio at Franklin Park Conservatory. 

The City Health Department will also be dropping pellets in our rain tanks to kill mosquitos this summer (like last year), which is especially a good thing in light of his new Zika virus.   However, the City Health Department is also getting aggressive about opposing the use of fresh manure (especially chicken manure – or guano) on land bank lots and around vegetable plants.  They don’t want us composting guano or other fresh manure on our lots.  They don’t want vegetables getting contaminated with salmonella or other organic diseases.    While they have no problem with us composting plant material on our lots, they do not seem to understand that the pH and nitrogen content of plant-based compost is not as good as manure compost.   But then, with free Com-Til available, who needs manure?  If you want to debate this, contact Dr. Aaron Messer at 645—6748 at the City Health Department. 

So, then we signed our licenses, turned in our checks and hoped that Seth remembers to email us copies for our own records.   Seth reported that there are on average about 65 community gardens on land bank lots.  There were new gardeners there tonight and some who were thinking about it.  And then there were folks like me, neighbor Norman Brown, Growing Hearts and Hands, Morrison Hill, Patrick Kaufman, etc. 

So, when the SACG Board meets in a few weeks to plan our 2016 season, we will have a lot to discuss.

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