Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The SACG’s Five Minutes of Fame

Yesterday, The Columbus Dispatch printed a lovely article about the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden and our Stoddart Avenue neighbors, called Garden of Hope.  One complaint some of the neighbors express from time to time is that the only time the Stoddart Avenue neighborhood gets mentioned by the local media is when there is a shooting and/or murder.  That’s not very good advertising for people trying to sell their house on the street or in trying to attract nice people to invest and/or reside here in one of the many boarded up houses or rehabbed apartments.   As many of you know, there have been three shooting deaths close to the Garden on Stoddart Avenue since we broke ground in 2009. The press coverage of the first shooting mentioned that it was close to the Garden, but the other stories have omitted us.  When covering the latest shooting last month, Jim Woods, a Dispatch reporter, noticed the Garden and contacted me to see if there was a story there about something positive occurring in the neighborhood.

If you only read Garden of Hope on the internet, you’ve missed what readers of the hard copies were able to see.  The article was preceded on the front page of the Metro & State section by a story about how poorly Ohio’s children have fared during the recession.  A third of Ohio children live in a home where neither parent has a full-time/year-round job.  A quarter live in households with annual incomes of less than $20,000.   Another story discussed criminal rape allegations against a local attorney.   On the second page, the Garden of Hope story was preceded by a story about how culinary classes offer felons a fresh start.  Our story must have been popular because our East Main Street Kroger’s sold out of them before dinner. (I bought the last one for Christen and had to drive to Eastmoor later to get copies for Cathy and D).    No one was more excited about the story and picture than Rose. I ran into Rose’s family at Kroger’s and they said they would buy one for her.  In the meantime, I let Rose and D read Christen’s copy before I delivered it.
I am extremely glad that the story highlighted all of the hard work that Barb and Frank Carter have contributed to improving the neighborhood. The Garden tends to soak up all of the attention and community support, but they have done a lot for the neighborhood, too.  They've been members of the Garden from the beginning and Frank made our beautiful gates (with cedar lumber donated from Trudeau Fence Company).   I think they are burning out this year because they've been behind in planting in their plot this year.  Also, I think I should point out that aside from loaning us their pick axe (which was extremely necessary), neither Carter helped to plant the cherry trees.   Nonetheless, they are out mowing grass in the lots surrounding the Garden and tending the Block Watch flower gardens week in and week out pretty much by themselves in all kinds of heat.  During last year’s drought, they even filled and transported by truck their own rain barrel several times each week to the Block Watch lot in order to water the flowers and keep them alive for another season.  It’d be great is someone – anyone – could spare some time to help them mow from time to time.

I personally cannot complain about the Dispatch article.  It makes me sound like superwoman.  Although I worry about the publicity because of Matthew 6: 1-4, I sent a copy of the article to almost everyone I know and my mother tells me that she did likewise. (It’s always a plus to make my mother happy because she worries about the amount of time I spend at the Garden and my father worries about how I can possibly make a living with such a divided focus).   I already talk about little else beside the Garden in my daily life.

It’s also a little embarrassing because – as faithful readers know – we have received A LOT of support from scores of people and organizations.  We haven’t been this successful for this long without lots of prayers, divine intervention, generous souls and buckets of sweat.  I was pretty much a walking commercial during the interview about each individual and/or business who contributed to each issue we discussed.  For example, Betty Weaver went door-to-door with me to recruit gardeners that first year and planted the purple clematis in the picture of Rose.  Lowe’s and Scotts Miracle-Gro donated the materials that built the raised bed where Rose is watering.  A lady (aka a former president of the Christ Lutheran congregation in Bexley) from my knitting group donated the seeds for most of the vegetables and flowers at the Garden, etc.  Nonetheless, I recognize that an article with lots of names would not have been as interesting to many as the one that Jim wrote.
Urban Connections also is an unsung hero in the neighborhood.  They work week in and week out with the neighborhood kids, which has always been one of the best things about living and growing in the Stoddart Avenue neighborhood.  UC has recruited adult mentors from the suburbs (mostly UA and Hilliard) for most of the kids, provided tutoring, fed them once a week before age-appropriate bible studies and provided a basketball court and vacant lot where the kids can play in peace.   While their efforts are not as visible and photogenic as the Garden’s work, they are invaluable.

I also worry about what the City will think.  While Dan did suggest that I should start the Garden much farther north (which would have involved driving a bit up I-71), he has been unfailingly supportive since we broke ground.  That support has not waned since Dan passed his community garden duties off to Intern Seth.  The Mayor’s office – through Leslie Strader – has also been supportive, as has Development Director John Turner and Councilwoman Priscilla Tyson.  We have no complaints about the level of city support we have received – particularly this year when they have made arrangements to ensure that we don’t run out of water again like last year.

Because I am a chronic worrier, I also worry about what other community gardens will think about the article.  Not a single one of them have said anything about it to me and I know they read every article about community gardening.  There are approximately 250 community gardens in Central Ohio.    Some have more kids.  Some have more space.  Some raise more food. Some donate more food.   Some have more social interaction.   Our niche has apparently become being a magnet for shootings.  While maybe the most obvious, it was not exactly the rep I was going for . . . .
One of the most challenging aspects about our Garden and also one of its greatest strengths (IMHO) about our Garden is the marvelous diversity of our gardeners.   You may have guessed from the pictures and stories that I post from time to time that some of our gardeners do not live in the Stoddart Avenue neighborhood.  However, we are diverse in ways beyond race.  This year, we have gardeners from Bexley, Berwick, Eastmoor and the OSU area.  We’ve also in the past had gardeners from Whitehall, Grandview and German Village.   Some of them are professionals. Some are unemployed. Some are trade union members.   Some are retired.  Some are college students or recent graduates.  Some are young.  Some are older.  Some are experienced gardeners and others are brand new.  

When I started the Garden, some people suggested that I should focus on social justice issues with gardening as a pretext.  However, I did not start the Garden as an anti-poverty program, social club or church mission.  I just wanted to grow my own food and work with like-minded people who wanted to do the same.  Those people come from all walks of life from all over Central Ohio, regardless of race, income, education, religion, neighborhood, age, faith, mental health or employment status.   The Stoddart Avenue neighborhood has welcomed us all (as well as our frequent guests and itinerant volunteers) and tolerated our sometimes shagginess and growing pains in the process.  While I wish more of our neighbors gardened with us, I understand that different people have different priorities in how they spend their time and maintain a work/life balance.  I also understand that some people do not want to spend as much as I do covered in dirt and sweat or in a cranky/grumbly mood.
I hadn’t expected maintaining the Garden to be such relentlessly hard work.  However, it has become a bonding process when we have gardeners who share in the hard work.  We have discovered that gardeners who do not attend our opening work day at the beginning of each growing season never stay long with the Garden (if they even break ground in their plot).   There is something about working hard with someone on a community improvement project that creates a bond between the gardeners and with the Garden itself.  Nonetheless, we don’t require that level of commitment throughout the growing season because it would be too much of a burden on the individual gardeners.  Regardless, our opening day work equity requirement has discouraged a number of people from joining the Garden.  That concerns me, but not enough to waive the requirement.  Otherwise, I end up doing even more work than I already do.  

So, in short, I hope people know that our Garden is like many other community gardens in Central Ohio.  We grow food and flowers, pick weeds, swat bugs and wilt in the heat like everyone else.  We have many of the same problems as other community gardens in recruiting volunteers and gardeners.   And we overcome them like other community gardens.  We also create opportunities for gardeners to meet, join and solve other problems that they collectively face – like other community gardens.   We also help teach an appreciation for gardening and hard work to the next generation, just like other community gardens.   We are also appreciated by our surrounding neighborhood, like many community gardens.   Maybe this is not as interesting or flattering a story as Garden of Hope, but I don’t have to feel guilty or worry as much about it after the fact.

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