Across the city of Columbus and in many central Ohio suburbs, community gardens provide residents with an opportunity to grow their own produce.

Across the city of Columbus and in many central Ohio suburbs, community gardens provide residents with an opportunity to grow their own produce.

Gardens have sprung up in recent years in all kinds of locations. These include plots on land owned by churches and at vacant sites throughout Columbus.

In Westerville, Otterbein University's gardens at the Equine Center on Spring Road are available to community groups instead of individuals.

Reynoldsburg's foray into community gardening was so popular when it started a few years ago that the city now offers plots at two locations: one at Civic Park and one behind the fire station on Livingston Avenue.

The Wallace Gardens in Grandview are such a community institution that a proposal to move them a few years ago as part of a city master plan produced so many protests that officials decided to keep them in their original spot at the corner of Goodale Boulevard and Grandview Avenue.

Community gardening is nothing new, although it often feels as if the concept just fell off the turnip truck.

According to the website of the University of Missouri Extension Service, communal plots for producing produce date to the 1890s in the United States, with the first ones cropping up in, of all places, Detroit. They began "as a way to provide land and technical assistance to unemployed workers in large cities and to teach civics and good work habits to youth."

With the outbreak of World War I, the government began promoting community gardens as a means of supplementing the domestic food supply.

During the Great Depression, community gardens provided a means for the unemployed to grow their own food. And during World War II, the Victory Garden campaign encouraged people to grow their own food for personal consumption, recreation and to improve morale. After the war, only a few gardening programs remained; these eventually gave rise to the rebirth of community gardening in the 1970s.

The American Community Gardening Association, which now has its headquarters at 1777 E. Broad St., in Columbus, was formed in 1979 as the result of two national conferences that were held in Chicago. Its purpose, according to a 1984 annual report, was to help keep the community gardening movement alive in the wake of anticipated federal funding cuts that did, indeed, come about in the 1980s.

In the Northland area of Columbus in late 2009, a "green team" was formed in Minerva Park, and over and over again as the members sought ideas from residents, the concept of a community garden came up. A subcommittee was formed and began working on creating just such an operation.

In a 2010 interview, team founder Greg Wittman said the idea was "to give people the opportunity to plant the kinds of plants to bring them back to their culture or just a sense of joy of having the food that they really love and appreciate."

He called the garden "a vehicle to be able to share culture."

The nonprofit organization Local Matters, at one time based in Clintonville but now with headquarters in downtown Columbus, traces its roots to the Greater Columbus Foodshed Project, which in 2002 received a $200,000 food security grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The project was part of a collaboration among Ohio Citizen Action, Innovative Farmers of Ohio, Denison University, Franklin Park Conservatory and Ohio State University.

The grant was used to create more than 20 community gardens for Head Start families, to develop instructional material relating to nutrition and to hold cooking classes in inner-city neighborhoods.

Last May, Columbus Mayor Michael B. Coleman and the Franklin County commissioners announced that nearly 60 of 83 organizations applying for community gardening grants would receive funding.

Recipients represented a diverse cross-section of central Ohio and included, among others, a number of churches and schools, Actors' Theatre of Columbus, the Cambodian Mutual Assistance Association, Four Seasons City Farm, the Clintonville-Beechwold Community Resources Center, Friends of Goodale Park, Friends of the Cultural Arts Center, the German Village Society, Nationwide Children's Hospital Foundation, the Native American Indian Center of Central Ohio, Otterbein University, the Salvation Army, the Homeless Families Foundation and the YMCA.