VOLUNTEER FORTIFIES HIS VILLAGE WITH VEGETABLES
For Dennis Marsh, the benefits of being the volunteer coordinator for the Founders Community Gardens reach beyond simply encouraging friends and neighbors to be more healthy and self-sufficient. For Marsh, it’s downright therapeutic. “When I’m working with the soil, I feel like I’m being healed,” the Dayton resident says. “I believe this is what the creator intended for us—growing our own food and putting just the goodness that comes out of the Earth into our bodies.”
Marsh is part of Five Rivers MetroParks’ community gardening program. Since 1986, our community gardening program has been helping low to moderate income residents in Montgomery County develop and maintain community gardens and green projects, transforming vacant lots into productive open spaces. “Community gardeners cultivate vegetable gardens, care for community-managed parks and beautify their neighborhoods with flowers and trees,” says MetroParks Manager Luci Beachdell. “The gardens are owned, managed and maintained by neighborhood residents, providing many benefits, such as reduced crime rates, improved mental and physical health, and a greater sense of community.”
The community gardening program provides many forms of ongoing support to groups who want to start a community garden. It also provides land acquisition assistance, leadership development, community organization, soil amendments and tilling, community building events, training and consulting, seeds and plants, educational materials and workshops. “Plot size and (seasonal) rental fee vary by garden, as do opening and closing dates,” says Beachdell. “The majority of the gardens charge a small plot rental fee for the growing season, about $5 to $15. This fee typically covers the cost of the water bill. All of the older gardens and many of the newer ones have running water onsite.”
Marsh’s goal for the Founders plot is to make his gardeners more self-sufficient. “I want this to be a sustainable garden, a place where the community can grow food for themselves and maybe even sell their produce for extra income,” he says. “We also help improve our community by donating food grown here.” Last year, Marsh’s group gave away garden-fresh vegetables to the Dayton Urban Ministry Center and plans to include the Founders Family Community Center food pantry in next year’s crop donation.
Donating food to charitable organizations isn’t the only way Marsh says the community gardening program is helping to heal urban communities in Dayton. “It’s a place to socialize, it’s a kind of neighborhood watch, it teaches people to be self-sufficient, it brings people together,” he explains. “When you invest time and love into something, you care about it. These gardens are a source of pride.”
Marsh also believes in the power of produce. “It’s amazing, all the health benefits that come from these plants,” he says. “Obesity, vitamin deficiency—there are lots of common illnesses that we can treat just by putting good food in our bodies. We don’t need to depend on these big companies to do for us what we can do for ourselves. It’s a good economical decision, and everyone could benefit from saving a little money.”
Teaching people to be self-reliant is empowering for participants, as Beachdell can demonstrate. “I worked with a number of elderly gardeners at Village Park Apartments in Huber Heights. We built several ‘lasagna’ raised beds. The residents were so delighted to be growing food that they moved out of the lasagna beds and into the perennial landscaping beds,” she says. “One of the gardeners, whose next-door neighbor was confined to her apartment, put a tomato plant right outside the neighbor’s window so she could look at it from her apartment.”
New gardeners are welcome to participate in the community gardeing program. Marsh says he is often surprised by newcomers to the Founders plot who say they have never gardened before. “We give them all the tools and instruction they need, and then by the end of summer, they’re carrying out basket after basket of vegetables. I find it very hard to believe some of them are first-timers. We have a group of excellent gardeners.”
But gardeners should exercise caution; Marsh warns of the potential addiction to gardening. “It’s like paradise here. Once I start gardening, I don’t ever want to leave. I guess I know I have a problem when I even dream about gardening,” Marsh laughs.