Westerville News & Public Opinion

Community gardens growing strong

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The community garden trend is growing around Westerville, but the concept took root in the city long ago.

The city has sponsored a community garden in Cherrington Park, at the end of Hiawatha Avenue, with 70 plots for more than 20 years.

"In past years, we've had large demand for it," said Westerville Department of Parks and Recreation program director Laura Horton.

"We'd fill it up, then we'd have a waiting list of 10 to 15 people," she said.

"This has always been popular."

Blendon Township joined the community garden trend last summer, and organizers added plots to the garden this year because of the success it saw last year.

"We expanded it because there's so much interest in it," said Bryan Rhoads, township administrator.

"Almost everybody who had them last year wanted to do them again, then we had people on our waiting list," Rhoads said.

The township received a community garden grant through Franklin County last year to provide community tools and a water-storage tank for its garden.

The township tills and prepares the garden for planting each year.

Anyone in the township is able to sign up for a plot.

The township added eight plots this year, bringing the total to 28.

"We could probably add 20 more, and they would be taken up," Rhoads said. "People love it."

Otterbein University's community garden is ready for its third season.

It offers 34 garden plots, which are available to community groups rather than individuals.

"We have a Girl Scout garden; we have kids from the different school systems; we have a middle school garden; we have a Life Builders garden, which is for adults with disabilities," said Melissa Gilbert, director of Otterbein's Center for Community Engagement.

The garden is about community education and service, Gilbert said.

Schools that are near the garden, which is located at the university's Equine Center on Spring Road, will do lessons in the garden, and Otterbein does lessons with its students in the garden.

Otterbein donates some of the produce it grows to the Westerville Area Resource Ministry, and groups that hold garden plots sign a pledge to donate 25 percent of the produce they grow to a food pantry, Gilbert said.

Last year, Otterbein's garden grew 900 pounds of food for WARM.

"We really think of it as an outdoor learning landscape, too," Gilbert said.

"It's not just a growing space," she said.

"Having a community garden for us is very much a social-justice issue.

"We made a commitment to community engagement and (to) strengthening our community."

With its own community garden deep-seeded, Westerville is helping to grow the trend.

Horton said the city has been helping Central College Church to create a 20-plot community garden this year.

The plots will be open to church members, then any additional plots will be open to those on the city's waiting list, Horton said.

Horton said she believes interest in community gardening continues to increase because it's a family-friendly activity that also appeals to many age groups.

"It's a great family activity, if you don't mind pulling weeds. You have to be really diligent with the weeds," Horton said. "You have some people who are in their 80s gardening, then you have some young families down there."

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