MANHATTAN, Kan. – Humble beginnings can take root, and many in Kansas are planting the seeds.
This year, with the help of grant funding from the Kansas Community Gardens Project, 24 communities are establishing new – or improving existing – community gardens, said Evelyn Neier, K-State Research and Extension 4-H Youth Development garden specialist and a collaborator on the new grant effort.
The funding opportunity was announced earlier this year, and grant recipients were selected from 90 applications, said Neier, who explained that the 2012 grant awards are the first in a three-year grant effort initiated by the Kansas Health Foundation.
In encouraging community gardening, the grant funding is intended to promote physical activity, educate the public (young and old) about the health benefits of gardening, and build skills in growing health-promoting fruits and vegetables, while also building community and greater awareness about hunger in the community.
Many of the successful applicants shared similar requests for irrigation equipment, tillers, tools and storage sheds, but each would seem to have its own story. For example:
* In Manhattan, grant funding will be used to help develop the 10-acre Collins Lane Community Gardens to replace community gardens lost to the expansion of a local recycling center.
* In Abilene, grant funds are being used to purchase equipment for newly leased community garden plots in Eisenhower Park and offer how-to sessions on garden tips, food preparation, storage and preservation.
* In Beloit, a former correctional facility site is being transformed into community garden plots for residents who would otherwise not have an opportunity to grow fresh produce.
* In Jetmore, the Lions Club Community Garden shares a similar purpose – making plots available to people without growing space – and has united several community groups, including the Lions Club in Jetmore/Hanston; the K-State Research and Extension, Hodgeman County office and Master Gardeners; local schools (USD 227); the high school chapter of the FFA (Future Farmers of America) and the city, who are working together to establish gardens on land formerly used by the FFA.
Grant funds will be used to fence the gardens and build culverts at the entrance, install water lines and a meter, and to purchase a shed and garden tools.
* In Overland Park, community garden organizers are partnering with the Oak Park Branch of the Johnson County Library to make plots available on land adjacent to the library. Johnson County Master Gardeners will offer educational sessions for residents to learn organic, sustainable and environmentally friendly garden practices, and invite middle- and high-school students who live nearby to participate.
* In Florence, the Fred Harvey Community Gardens will emphasize organic gardening, improving the soil, and producing wholesome local foods, similar to those on the menus of Harvey Houses, which originated in Kansas and expanded to provide nourishment for generations of travelers in the United States. Responsibilities for planning and managing the garden are shared by the local historical society, PRIDE group and city.
* In Topeka, residents in the Pine Ridge area are joining representatives from the Boys & Girls Clubs, Parents as Teachers, day care providers and volunteers in the neighborhood to work together to provide fresh produce for the local food bank.
* In Wichita, ARC of Sedgwick County has titled its effort “Rows of Sharin’” and is inviting families and children with special needs, friends, neighbors and volunteers to come together to garden and grow understanding of each other, as well as fresh produce. With this project, gardeners also will have the opportunity to learn from twice-weekly how-to sessions with Master Gardeners.
By working together, we can learn from each other and benefit from gardening as a healthy physical activity that can provide social interaction with others within our communities. Participants can enjoy nutritional benefits from summer fresh produce, while also helping others in the community who don’t have enough to eat, Neier said.
More information about the Kansas Community Gardens Project, first-year recipients, and future grant opportunities are available at Kansas Community Gardens and at K-State Research and Extension offices in each of Kansas’ 105 counties.