In a world rife with 24/7 breaking news alerts, chaos in politics and fearful citizens, a tonic can be the healthy foods coming from our community gardens in Columbus.
Kossuth Street Garden has been operational since 2007, bringing social justice in the form of fresh fruits and vegetables and community involvement to a food desert on the near south side of Columbus. This is an area just south of Nationwide Children's Hospital that is third in the nation in black infant mortality rates and is in transition from blight to hope.
The site has a rich history. At one point it was the site of a slaughterhouse in this former predominantly Jewish neighborhood. Men and women liberated from Nazi concentration camps walked to work into the kosher sections of the slaughterhouse. It then became a produce warehouse and which was torn down in 1996.
The land Kossuth Street Garden sits on is for sale by the Salvation Army. The operators of the Garden have lined up potential investors who are willing to buy the land and help set up a working farm and outdoor lab on this one acre site. Kossuth Street Garden supporters know it might not seem as profitable to corporate interests who see the land as prime space for future condos. The value of land, however, should not be measured by its potential for high end development, but by what can be done to alleviate malnourishment, crime and a healthy place for people to meet and share food.
The issues are simple to see if you spend time in these areas across America. The solutions can be just as simple, but need a push from government, social organizations and civic leaders to be more involved in "best use of land” practices.
There are multiple fine gardens in our area, as there are across the city, but without citizen and government involvement to promote working farms where folks without cars can find work within walking distance of their homes, we only tackle part of what their missions can be.
The Garden is called a “Commonwealth,” as anyone can share in the bounty of our crops and folks are encouraged to use the food in simple health recipes. The operators encourage folks to see what can be gained from engaging in a community garden and the wealth of knowledge that can be transferred from one neighbor to another on other matters important in their lives.
A variety of crops grow there and some are exotic even to experienced gardeners. For example, the ground cherries and cherry tomatoes are practically ready to eat off the vine. Broccoli, kale, spinach, corn, peppers, squash and beans all are found in the garden, as well as a gorgeous peach tree.
Kossuth Street Garden recently won a grant for $1,500 from the Neighborhood Partnership grants through the United Way and Columbus Foundation. The Garden’s fiscal agent is Four Seasons City Farm and they too have more than an acre for crops on East Mound Street in the inner city and decent community participation. Garden volunteers also work with local schools, pantries, churches and social organizations to get the word out that they are here to teach and share their passion with others less fortunate.
The issue is turning as much green space as possible into working farms and places where more than food is shared. It is a hard sell in areas that are gentrifying and seeing a sudden interest in once dilapidated homes. Credit goes to many organizations who are renovating homes, such as Healthy Homes/Healthy Families run by Church For All People and Nationwide Children's Hospital that rehab old houses in Southern Orchards and those who are leading efforts to create a community where folks typically live for a short while before evictions are imposed.
The cultural dynamic of changing norms, which for generations meant that fast food was the first option, can be supplanted by green space that allows people to change a small portion of this world “inch by inch and row by row.”
Major credit for the resurgence in local community gardens goes to the “Growing to Green” program at Franklin Park Conservatory and Greater Columbus Growing Coalition which has members from dozens of community gardens sharing seeds, plants and information at their monthly meetings. Perhaps, it is not the stars which will change us but the soil beneath our feet. After all, that is where we all end up sooner or later so make friends with Mother Earth and she will give more than you could need.
Kossuth Street Garden is more than garden. It shines as a gem in an area that is all too often on the news for the wrong reasons. A garden strikes a note of harmony in the roughest neighborhoods. Detroit, Milwaukee and Cleveland have become beacons for working farms on this front.
Kossuth Street Garden won the “Youth Leadership Award” for all community gardens in 2014 from “Growing to Green.” Garden volunteers work with the court system and with juvenile delinquents as they do community service. They also offer family and individual plots and see the garden as more of an educational tool than a large producer of fruits and vegetables for our area. They worked with greendrinkscolumbus.org and the City of Columbus to restart Earth Day in 2007.
Now Columbus is proud to say it has the largest volunteer turnout for Earth Day than any other city in the nation. That is a start, and who knows, if working farms/outdoor labs will catch on but their famous “Little Library” stands tall as a learning spot for all and the Garden lets us all give a soothing exhale for what is right in this world.
The Kossuth Street Garden Earth Day event is on April 15th, 2017 from 11 a.m. till 2 p.m. featuring three bands and exhibits to teach folks how to grow food and promote pollinators. Sign up at www.earthdaycolumbus.org, find them on Facebook or contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It is always a hoot and you'll meet folks with similar passions. Social justice from the ground up sums up their mission. Our soil is richer than a millionaire's bank account and can be for generations to come. That is a damn good return for our sweat equity and compassion.