Raised-Bed Community Gardens Coming to Redbud Commons Senior Apartments
One of the exciting elements of Treplus Communities’ new Redbud Commons senior apartments in Pickerington is the raised bed community garden that will be located on the property. Redbud Commons is a 55 and over luxury apartment project currently under construction on Hill Road North and Diley Road approximately two miles north of the Olde Pickerington Village center. The garden will enable residents to grow their own flowers, fruits and vegetables for personal consumption and donation to local food banks.
Community and urban gardening has taken off over the past couple of decades, as more and more people become interested in the health and sustainability benefits of growing and eating local food. Here in Central Ohio, we’re lucky to have a climate conducive to growing a wide array of beautiful produce—from sugar snap peas in the spring, award-winning summertime tomatoes and beautiful deep leafy greens during the cold months of late fall.
The community garden at Redbud Commons will be dedicated, named and operated by the property’s residents. Treplus Communities owners Ann Cook, and Jane Roslovic and Geoff Arthur want to include community gardens wherever possible in their senior apartment properties, including Burr Oak Commons, their planned 55+ apartments in Delaware, Ohio. Burr Oak Commons is expected to open in 2019, and will include raised bed gardens just like those at Redbud Commons in Pickerington, which is slated to open its first units in the autumn of 2018.
One of the planning events that the senior apartment property will hold prior to developing its community garden is a visit with Bill Dawson, Columbus’ community gardening guru. Dawson, whose career at Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens began during the Ameriflora event in 1992, has been nurturing the Growing to Green program since its inception in 2000.
Growing to Green is part of the conservatory’s outreach programming. It began with a dozen community gardens around Columbus and Central Ohio, and has grown exponentially since. To date, Growing to Green has provided technical and programming assistance and sustainability training to over 300 community gardens. And 90% of these gardens give back to the community through food donations to local needy families, soup kitchens and food banks.
Dawson’s boundless enthusiasm for the program is evident when talking with him, and he brings a wealth of knowledge, experience and enthusiasm with him. This energy has enabled him to assist many groups with their gardens, and helping them become successful and sustainable.
Whether it’s describing the raw materials needed for successful community gardens (dedicated volunteers, plans, purpose, land, training) or talking about three-season gardening, it’s easy to see that his visit to Redbud Commons will be informative as well as energizing. Dawson will give a presentation to the residents and staff at Redbud Commons senior apartments, help them plan their garden, maybe even do some grilling at the garden site. “Grilling with Bill” is a popular way for Dawson to propagate his principals of success.
In referring to the Redbud Commons garden, Dawson says, “This has an opportunity to be a model, locally and nationally, for other organizations and communities. There is ample opportunity in Central Ohio to increase the number of community gardens in multifamily and condominium communities, as well as in corporate settings."
Dawson adds, “Raised beds warm up quicker in the spring, and they’re easier to maintain. (During the Redbud Commons visit) We’ll be discussing the ways to plant, irrigate, and teach through this garden space.” Dawson stresses that “every garden should be a teaching garden” through signage, technique, such as the different ways to stake a tomato, using hoops or stakes. It goes way beyond just gardening with cooking as well.”
He says that older adults have good reasons to get into community gardening. “In the 55+ senior communities, it’s great to think about health in a more proactive way through the community gardens. For seniors, gardening makes memories from childhood return, and helps bring generations together.”
Dawson describes some of the elements of successful community gardens.
“When I go to meet with groups seeking to start a community garden, I look for core members of the team-a team leader plus a backup group of at least two or three passionate people who can continue the program, even if the initial point person drops out,” he explains. “First and foremost, you need to make sure the team stays in place. Then for sustainability, we try to widen the circle into schools, community, churches, businesses, etc. I like to work with groups for nearly a year prior to putting the shovels in the ground. You need to have plans in place before actually starting the garden.”
“It’s always good to have a waiting list for plots in your garden,” Dawson explains that having other gardeners looking over your shoulder helps keep excitement in the process, and keeps demand higher. Dawson notes that there is always a waiting list for the community garden plots at the conservatory.
Also, “I always mandate volunteer hours for community gardeners. I ask volunteers for 10 hours a month outside their own garden plots.” Dawson says this is a great way to keep energy flowing through the process, gets chores like turning compost and weeding done, and enables volunteer workers to get to know one another. They become more vested in the entire garden and take ownership.
Dawson says Growing to Green resources help to teach community garden volunteers how to raise money, find available land, secure grants, obtain or borrow tools, and create garden designs. The program, and Dawson are a “one stop shop” for starting and propagating community gardens. “These groups often are all volunteers, from churches and neighborhood groups. I like to get them thinking a few years out in terms of planning, from the very beginning.” For example, Dawson emphasizes that community gardens should have a central mission and specific goals in place.
The following are some of the key core values of community gardening efforts:
- Fresh fruits and vegetables for food pantries
- Health and wellness
- Feeding low-income people in the neighborhood- maybe in food deserts
- Health – encourage eating local, organic produce
- Social aspect-bringing people together
- Celebration of Culture
Bill Dawson TO HELP Redbud Commons RESIDENTS IMPLEMENT A community GARDEN
In addition to providing technical and program assistance, Dawson says he loves doing his “Grilling with Bill” events at new and existing gardens. “We do a cookout social event, usually right there in the garden, and it’s a great way for people to meet and exchange ideas, recipes, information.” Dawson will be at Redbud Commons senior apartments giving a talk on community gardening to prospective tenants in the near future. The date has not been set yet, but will be announced on the Treplus Communities website.
World Peace Through Gardening
Community gardening brings disparate groups of people together to work toward a common good. It levels the playing field, and enables people to share a piece of their own culture with others.
“My true belief is that we’re going to see world peace through gardening,” Dawson says. “We’ve seen different groups of people who may not always get along so well, but if they’re in a garden situation, they begin to share recipes, knowledge of growing, and their cultural and family history. We’ve learned a lot from the Somali people who live in Columbus and take part in some of the community gardens around town. They’re dry earth gardeners, and they know how to construct a trench and berm system that enables the garden to retain more rainwater. That’s a great lesson in water use and conservation.”
Vocal About Local
Local eating is in vogue now. Growing to Green began in 2000, eight years prior to Michelle Obama’s White House rooftop vegetable garden and the renaissance of localvore eating in Central Ohio. “One of the keys to longevity is asking the question, ‘so you’re planning a community garden project. Who is with you?’”
Dawson says historically, churches have sponsored some of the most successful gardens. They already have a cohesive group of people, a built-in service component, they often have land, and they are willing to learn together and give to a common cause.
He cites an example of one of the Growing to Green “Hub Gardens”, one of the original 12 “Dirty Dozen” Central Ohio community gardens, Upper Arlington Lutheran Church. “Every season, they donate 9,000-12,000 pounds of fresh produce to three different feeding agencies and food pantries, which is really significant.” When you consider that in total, Central Ohio community gardens donate 60,000+/- pounds of produce each year to the food bank, the contribution from UALC is quite significant.
While some local retirement communities have “community gardens,” none that we are familiar with are connected to area food banks, and mostly maintain them for the pleasure of residents being able to garden and grow their own flowers and vegetables.
Dawson says he is excited about getting corporations and residential communities such as Redbud Commons more involved. “You don’t go out and build a garden and hope they come,” he says. “Start with a resident survey, help name the garden, gather info for desired amenities, and find out what the residents want to do.” Dawson says ask questions such as: Do they want to save water with rain barrels? Do shade gardens? Compost?”
The “dreamstorming” process helps find good fits for churches, neighborhoods, apartments, businesses, schools, and other groups, says Dawson. He adds that apartments and condominiums for rent are ready made communities.
Some of the other events and benefits of the Growing to Green program in Central Ohio include:
- Three-Season Gardening: “I try to emphasize three-season gardening here in Ohio. We do peas and potatoes in spring; summer is for peppers, greens, corn and eggplant. Then in fall, lettuce and cool season crops can go in around November. Lettuce and kale become more delicious after they get hit with frost.”
- Preserving and Freezing: The conservatory provides classes for preserving and freezing many of the fruits and vegetables that are grown in community gardens. These are fee-based classes, but Dawson also promotes these practices in his own outreach visits to the community gardens.
- Urban Gardening Grants Program: Urban Gardening Grants program winners get materials, organic soils and mulches, etc. they also receive education through Growing to Green Academy that teaches everything from organization to sustainability. The current focus of the Academy is teaching garden leadership to create an exponential effect in educating gardeners.
- The September 13th Growing to Green Potluck Celebration and Awards Ceremony gives seven awards to local gardeners and gardens, including an “Youth Leadership under 18 gardener” category. Prizes include funds to plow back into the gardens, and for education of young gardeners.
- The March 23rd, 2019 We Dig Ohio Summit is an annual statewide conference for people who are interested in, or already doing community gardening. The event, held at Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, typically draws 150 people from across the state.
Dawson is working to get his hard copy print manual, the Columbus Community Garden Resource Guide, online and free to all who are interested.