Wednesday, September 19, 2012

I Need Your Opinion (You Know You Have One)

One of the many projects I seem to have gotten myself into lately is creating a community garden in a city park.  Seems like a nice idealist project, do some good for the neighborhood, teach someone how to grow a vegetable, maybe learn about composting... If you want to see an overview of how the project began click here.  This "garden project" has been a dream of Dr. Watt's widow as the next step for this progress of this park. 

Let me just remind you that I live in a part of the city that is being revitalized; this is a commercial area with neighborhoods of lower income, older aged families and many homeless nearby.  There is no school in the area, there are a few kids.  There is no local neighborhood garden club, master gardener project, etc. close by to work this project. This garden project will be "run" by our little group of volunteers (mostly renters in the neighborhood) until we get everyone involved.

I, along with my neighbor at another complex, have agreed to spearhead this community garden project. Since there is a nursing home on one side of the park, I suggested wheelchair accessible height gardens along a new winding sidewalk.  I got the idea from this article:

My neighbor, the actual leader of our group, has recently completed the Master Composter program the city holds and wants to have a composting area along with big educational areas to hold garden workshops for the community.

I made a copy of an overhead view of the map and made a rough sketch of our initial thoughts of how the garden might look.  Something like this:

Orange = fencing to keep dogs from running through, yellow = new wheelchair sidewalk lined with planting areas, green = new permanent planting areas, for display gardening (possibly herbs by the street). Open area to be used for community plots, maybe some fruit trees.

Back in mid August, I met with a representative FWSouth who will be taking on the project with the city and parks department and gave him a tour of the park to show him what we had in mind.  Then the waiting began.  I did say this was a city park, didn't I?

This week, cool temperatures, new fall vegetable plants arriving at the nursery sparked my curiosity on how our project was progressing so I sent an email to our guy at FWSouth.   Couple days later I get a response.  La, la, the parks people love our ideas, (fencing keeping the dogs out, wheelchair access, variety of garden experiences), there is interest from folks (in other parts of town) who have mentioned funding the project, but

"The one disappointment is that we won't be able to grow fruits and vegetables.  Because it's a City park, there is no way to legally control or restrict access to sections of the park where food is grown, and there's no way to protect the City from liability related to someone getting sick from produce grown in the park.  I know that was part of the vision and it's unfortunate we can't incorporate food into the garden.  But City staff is very supportive of us installing non-food gardens that could really add a lot of interest and excitement to the park."

What?!  No food?  "Part of the vision?"

I must now take this to our group and get their feed back before the next meeting with the funding folks and community leaders.

We (me and our leader - we have not told the group yet) are totally disappointed and are really lacking the energy to committing to this turn of the project.  What would you do? Do we fight city hall and ask how other community gardens exist?  (The ones I have seen are not under lock and key.) Do people want to learn how to plant flowers in a community garden?  I am totally flummoxed.

Somehow I must come up with a plan for this project.  Can you give me a pep talk?  A new vision, perhaps?


Shirley Fox said...

Don't give up yet. Find out who made the decision and why.

The original purpose of community gardens was to grow food on otherwise unused spaces in places like New York City. I did a quick check and they are still growing food in NYC community gardens.

I remember seeing a network of community gardens online where you might get the support you need. If I figure that out I'll link it back here.

Tufa Girl said...

Thank you, Shirley! I am scouring the internet for stories - found a couple already, San Francisco: Seattle: Vancouver: Let me know what you find. I will be ready for the next round!

HolleyGarden said...

I would try to talk to other community garden leaders and ask them how their cities reacted to growing food, and if they had any problems getting theirs approved, and how they handled it. Personally, while not giving up the ultimate goal of growing vegetables, in the meantime, I would try to generate some excitement about being approved to grow flowers. Then, I would put on some vegetable gardening talks so people that wanted to start a vegetable garden would have somewhere to ask questions. I hope you get your dream realized. And while it's very disappointing, I can understand the city's reluctance to put themselves out to a potential liability. Good luck.

Randy Hyden said...

Most things that are worthwhile prove dificult. I think it is extremely laudable to even start a flower garden project. How about some publicity? Television? A way to sway the political opinion. Good Luck !

Shirley Fox said...

This association of community gardens has some resources available on their website, some parts require membership. They might be able to recommend a mentor to help guide you.

The Sage Butterfly said...

How frustrating! I would continue to look into ways around the first 'no.' I agree with getting the press involved, newspapers, tv, radio. Talk with other gardening organizations in your area, such as gardening clubs, the local extension office, community gardens. Stay strong. This sounds like such a worthwhile effort!

Anonymous said...

What about state grant monies? Our Master Gardener group works with city organizations that apply for grant money and some are for vegetable gardens. Also, contact the nearest Cooperative program, they can lend a hand.

lemonverbenalady said...

I saw a whole bunch of community gardens in Vancouver, BC, TG. Haven't blogged about them yet, but here is a link: to get you started. I know it's Canada, but may be you can glean something. I'll work on which ones we got to see and send you some photos. Oh, I just read your response to Shirley and I see you have found Vancouver's gardens. Pittsburgh has community gardens through Grow Pittsburgh. Here is that link: Don't give up. You just need to find one advocate in government that will fight the fight with you. xxoo Nancy

Casa Mariposa said...

I would ask the people in the community what they want. They might have some surprising answers. They also might have some hidden talents that would come in handy.

Marguerite said...

There is no common sense left in the world is there? How can they guarantee that people won't try eating the ornamental plants and get sick from those? I saw planters in Calgary, Alberta this summer, right in a rough downtown area, brimming with lettuce. I thought it was an amazing idea.