Community centers are places where people gather to learn things and stay healthy.
Why not also make them places where people can learn how to eat healthfully?
That's the thinking behind a partnership between the Columbus Recreation and Parks Department and Local Matters that will introduce "educational gardens" and classes in how to best prepare what's grown in them to eight community centers throughout the city.
These won't be traditional community gardens where people can grow vegetables on their own patches of ground. Rather, they will be garden clubs where children and adults can learn to grow food that's good for them.
"That process can be more impactful in terms of planning and encouraging community leadership," said Michelle Moskowitz Brown, director of operations for Local Matters.
The educational garden at Whetstone Community Center in Clintonville was installed last week. The one at the Northland area's Woodward Park Community Center takes over from one that went in last year, said Christina Snyder, nature programs administrative manager for Columbus Recreation and Parks and educational garden coordinator.
Local Matters, a nonprofit organization with a mission "to transform the food system in central Ohio to be more secure, prosperous, just and delicious," had some funding last year to put gardens in at a few community centers, Brown said.
This year, that was expanded to eight community centers, thanks to funding from Medical Mutual and the Ohio Orthopedic Center for Excellence, Brown said.
The others involved are Blackburn Community Center, 263 Carpenter St.; Dodge Community Center, 667 Sullivant Ave.; Douglas Community Center, 1250 Windsor Ave.; Howard Community Center, 2505 Cassady Ave.; Krumm Park Community Center, 854 Alton Ave.; and Marion Franklin Community Center, 2801 Lockbourne Road.
In addition, Local Matters will sponsor "Food Matters" healthful cooking classes at Sullivan Gardens Community Center, 755 Renick St., Brown said.
The locations are a mix of places where residents wanted community gardens or where center personnel expressed interest.
"We haven't really focused much on healthy eating, and one of the ways to do that was focus on educational gardens," Snyder said.
While nearby residents and some community center personnel have expressed interest in devoting space to vegetable gardens in the traditional sense, "we just can't supervise all that," she said.
By working in partnership with Local Matters and creating gardening clubs at the community centers, the programs shouldn't demand too much time away from regular duties of recreation and parks employees, Snyder said.
"It's a huge undertaking to do this year-round," Brown said. "This will increase our access to healthy food, our education about healthy food and our community engagement. We see this as a great entry point ... We feel this plan could extend further into the city."
"We wanted to get everything started in a way that's going to be sustainable and long-lasting," Snyder said. "We want it to be continually programmed and with a lot of interest going on."
Gardeners in the clubs will grow tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, corn, beans, spinach, lettuce and okra, among other foods.
Admittedly, the occasional tomato or ear of corn is going to leave the garden by someone other than the person who cultivated it, Snyder said, "but maybe that person really needs that food."
Young gardeners are just going to have to accept that, she added.
"They should get more than enough food that they need and it's OK to share," Snyder said.
Details on how the individual programs operate are available at the centers.