The scarecrows watching you motor down Bluffton Road are there for more than just fooling passing motorists into thinking someone is scrutinizing them from the side of the road.
The dress-clad, flower-hatted dummies are there to watch over the Waynedale Community Garden, an urban patch of farmland that lets local folks grow their own flowers, fruits and vegetables, then reap the results after a summer of growth.
Located just south of the Family Dollar Store at 4401 Bluffton Road, on the east side of the street, the plots of land are actually part of the Fort Wayne Parks Department – and more properly, Foster Park West – according to Lynda Heavrin, the Manager of Landscape and Horticulture for the Parks Department.
In all, there are about 93 plots there, with each spot measuring roughly 20 x 40 feet – making the garden’s total spread about 74,000 square feet, said Heavrin, who’s been with the department 17 years.
The plants and crops grown there are as varied as the gardeners themselves, she said. Some grow tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, flowers, corn or rozelle. This summer, many of the plots are sprouting long beans.
The appeal of the garden is for people who like to grow their own crops, but may not have the space, Heavrin said.
“A lot of people don’t have enough land to grow the crops they want to grow,” she explained. “And this is pretty nice land; it floods a lot, so there’s a lot of silt and the soil is rich. It’s good ground, and it’s a nice, big space for people.”
The Parks Department actually tills the land in the spring to get it ready for gardening season, according to Heavrin. Once the soil is ready, anybody is welcome to rent a piece of the land to garden there. Cost is $15 for the season, Heavrin said, but currently, there’s a waiting list of about 15 people eager to start working their own piece of the garden. And turnover is low, she said – some gardeners have rented a plot there for more than 12 years.
Gardeners also must provide their own water – no irrigation system is installed. Some bring rain barrels near their crops to collect water, while others have water trucked in, Heavrin remarked.
And, Waynedale’s garden is just one of several that have popped up around the Fort Wayne area, said James Wolff, the Agriculture and Natural Resources Educator with the Allen County Extension Office at IPFW.
“Community gardens fill a need as we look at connecting people back with their food,” Wolff commented. “But it also helps, because we have a lot of food deserts in this area. And this kind of thing helps with health and nutrition.”
Food deserts, Wolff explained, are areas where locals have limited or no access to healthy food such as fruits and vegetables. “It’s a spot where people have to travel more than a mile to get food that’s healthy. And in the country, they have to travel more than 10 miles.”
When folks are stuck in those areas, he said, they often must turn to less healthy alternatives for sustenance, such as fast food or anything they can get from the local convenience store or gas station.
On a recent, hot and humid summer afternoon, Aung Soe was walking the bean rows of the garden, picking as much as he could and stuffing them in his worn wicker basket. The Waynedale resident, clad in a faded red t-shirt and gray shorts, said he comes out to pick his beans for a couple of hours about once a week. He had definite plans for his harvest.
“I’m going to fry them up and eat them!” he said, with a sly grin.
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