Enjoying Spring is one big perk of living in northwest Ohio. After the long, dark winter, our corner of the world suddenly transforms from gray tones into bloom-filled beauty. It’s enough to inspire those with even the brownest thumb to give gardening a shot.
Two Findlay organizations that offer community gardens and give residents the opportunity to give gardening a shot. The United Way manages a community garden located at The Family Center on North Blanchard Street while First Presbyterian Church offers plots just off South Main Street.
United Way efforts
The United Way collaborated with other area organizations to create the gardens at The Family Center seven years ago with several goals in mind. The gardens serve the entire Findlay community by “encouraging health and exercise, providing opportunities for intergenerational and cross-cultural connections, reducing crime rates, neighborhood beautification, producing nutritious food, reducing family budgets and the creation of entrepreneurial and income opportunities.”
Community gardens support
and grow community
Heather Heilman, who manages the gardens, notes that roughly 35-40% of those gardening are on some type of assistance. Heilman adds, “in my experience, those who experience chronic poverty often have gardening skills but just haven’t had a plot of land to grow on.” To further encourage community and successful gardening, the United Way aims to connect new gardeners with classes at the Ohio State Extension Office and Blanchard Valley Center’s Green House.
Additionally, Master Gardener Volunteers, who maintain a large central plot at the community garden, often can be found working alongside other gardeners and are always eager to help a fellow gardener.
A success story
Asked about the United Way garden’s success, Heilman answers, “Success is measured in many ways when it comes to gardening and our mission. One individual stands out in my mind. They were living in a homeless shelter when we first met and on assistance due to chronic health issues. In spite of their situation, they attended the seed-to-seedling classes, participated in the gardens, attended all the preservation classes and obtained their Master Gardener Volunteer certification. They later let me know they were helping others in their church group garden as well. It was a full circle experience for them and exactly why we created this opportunity. That doesn’t happen every year, but we have many on assistance that, when surveyed, indicated they had been helped in some manner by participating in the gardens and have taken advantage of different aspects of the classes offered.”
Decades of food and friendships
First Presbyterian Church began offering garden space on the southend of town over three decades ago. The plots are available for a nominal fee of $10. Joan Work, a longtime church member, utilized the church plots for years until health challenges interfered. She remains enthusiastic about the gardens and continues to see its benefit. “Those who have toiled and nursed their gardens behind the church have shared green beans, lettuce, tomatoes, green onions, summer squash and many herbs. Some even pick some flowers to adorn the serving tables for Community Dinners.”
Joan spearheads the church’s monthly Community Dinner, a mid-day meal that is free and open to the public. Area churches rotate hosting the meal each Sunday with FPC welcoming guests every second Sunday. Work also delights in the community grown amidst the garden plots and notes, “We have interested gardeners from all walks of life – preachers, teachers, therapists, former councilmen and many civil leaders who come into the kitchen for a drink of water and to see (and sometimes taste!) what we are fixing for our community! Many garden because they are comfortable outdoors under a blue sky, white clouds and just being in and for Nature!” To continue Work’s enthusiastic efforts, church members are discussing ways to utilize the community garden as a congregational service project to foster intergenerational relationships while stocking the church’s Community Dinner and food pantry with fresh produce.
Abraham Lincoln once said “The greatest fine art of the future will be the making of a comfortable living from a small piece of land.” The community gardens of Findlay exhibit fine art each year with produce, lessons learned and practiced and the relationships cultivated. United Way’s Heilman notes, “Gardening is hard work, but for those who keep coming back, I guarantee more than a plot of dirt is producing growth…something is growing inside them as well and nobody and nothing can take that away.”
Grow your green thumb
Those interested in obtaining a plot at First Presbyterian Church’s community garden may contact the church office for an application by calling 419-423-2112. Applications for garden plots at The Family Center are available
online by visiting liveunitedhancockcounty.org/community-gardens. Other gardening resources available to local residents: Findlay
Gardening Club, Master Gardener Volunteers and the Ohio State Extension Office provide information, classes and occasional tours to the public.