Have you met Velveeta, the lady scarecrow? I’ll bet you’ve seen her at least. She’s been standing over a strawberry patch in Foster Park West just off Bluffton Road for the last ten years. I drive past her, and her friend Violette, whenever I am heading into Waynedale, and I’ve often wondered how those two figures got there. Recently I decided to find out.
The land between Bluffton Road and the St. Mary’s River is city property, a part of Foster Park West, and has been rented out for many years as community garden plots. Bob Gould, along with Tom Johnston, has been renting the plot where the scarecrows stand. He filled me in on his experience as a community gardener.
“We have been tending our plots there for many years now and have learned a lot about what works there and what doesn’t. The soil is good, a little sandy, but it produces well. We grow tomatoes, peppers and sunflowers among other things. Because we rent the same plot from year to year we can have perennials like strawberries and raspberries. Last year I grew a couple rows of zinnias that attracted the attention of passers-by…We use most everything we grow.”
Gardening there takes work. Bob hauls a 75-gallon tank in the back of his pickup to water the garden, as no water is piped in there. Sometimes people will pump from the nearby river, but Bob finds it better all-around to bring in his own water. Bob and Tom till the ground themselves because they have put up fencing around the plot to keep out critters (as best they can), “but the city will till up your plot for you if there’s no fence around it.”
This year all of the plots in Foster Park West have already been rented out, according to Lynda Heavrin, Manager of Landscape & Horticulture for Parks and Recreation, and that tells me that this activity is gaining in popularity. Community gardening, urban farming, eating locally and dealing with the problem of food deserts seem to be coming more and more into the public mind.
I know these ideas are not unheard of. After all, Victory Gardens were all the rage during the war years. Starting in World War I and continuing through the Second World War the government encouraged citizens to grow food wherever they could find space. In their online article on Victory Gardens Wikipedia says that, “The campaign promoted the cultivation of available private and public lands, resulting in over five million gardens in the USA and foodstuff production exceeding $1.2 billion by the end of the war.” At one point during World War II one third of the vegetables produced in the United States were grown in Victory Gardens.
These days people here in Fort Wayne are gardening for more than just healthy food. Just last week a picture appeared in The Journal Gazette of high school students building a community garden on the grounds of the Mad Anthony’s Children’s Hope House on the campus of Lutheran Hospital. This garden will supply not only food, but a place of respite for families with children who are being treated in the hospital. Also Blue Jacket, the non-profit that helps people with legal issues in their backgrounds, has a community garden where clients work to raise produce they can then sell to the public. That’s not only productive but good therapy for folks struggling to get back on their feet and rejoin the community.
You might notice that Velveeta is pointing toward the river. I see that as a kind of sign that community gardening has the potential of helping us with the growing water crises that are occurring around the country and the world and will be affecting food production everywhere. Let’s get out ahead of those problems and produce food locally, as a community, and improve our health at the same time.
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