Community gardening catches on

. October 18, 2012.
First-Pres-Gardens

Want to get your kids interested in growing their own food? “Help them grow a pizza,” says Nancy Kronberg, coordinator of Hancock County’s Master Gardener Program. “Divide a small circular garden into wedges,” she adds. “Plant a different pizza ingredient in each wedge. The only things you’ll have to buy are the cheese and crust.”

As a grandmother, Nancy knows what kids like. As a Master Gardener for more than a decade, she knows what plants will thrive in northwest Ohio’s fickle climate…but gardening wasn’t always her passion.

“I moved to a condo and a neighbor brought me some violets,” Kronberg remembers. “It was the start of a great friendship and a great hobby.”

Nancy completed Hancock County’s Master Gardener program in 1998 and became the program’s part-time coordinator through the Ohio State University Extension in 1999. Kronberg completed an intense series of classes; a gardening project, and more than 50 volunteer hours to earn her title. The Hancock County’s Master Gardener group is an eclectic mix of retirees, physicians, nurses, teachers, stay-at-home moms
and farmers. 

Supporting community gardens

This year, the Master Gardeners will lend their expertise (and muscle!) to community gardening projects in Hancock County, along with planting their own “demo gardens” behind the OSU Extension Office on County Road 140. The group is also working with the Hancock County Parks and Soil and Water District on promoting rain gardens in the community. 

Classes to become a Hancock County Master Gardener are offered every two years, with the next program scheduled to begin in the fall of 2012. For more information, contact Nancy Kronberg at 419-422-3851 or visit www.hancock.osu.edu and click the Master Gardener link
in the left margin.

Leading the local food movement

Jon Hart has managed to combine his love of teaching with a passion for sustainable agriculture. For several years, Hart and a group of students tended gardens at Findlay’s Glenwood Middle School. When the local gardening effort expanded to more than 15 acres at various locations in Hancock County, Hart began working to create a freestanding, non-profit organization. Today, he heads The MENTOR Initiative of Hancock County, a program devoted to raising awareness of locally grown food through community gardens and
feeding programs. 

“United Way of Hancock County is serving as our fiscal agent until we achieve non-profit status,” says Hart. “This way, we can begin raising funds and become recognized as a real community resource.”

Hart talks excitedly about the expanding locations for community gardens, including 27 garden plots next to the Family Center on N. Blanchard Street in Findlay, five acres in VanBuren in northern Hancock County, four acres west of McComb, several small sites within Findlay’s city limits and more than 90 plots on the property of Findlay’s First Presbyterian Church.

Garden plots near the Family Center were offered to low-to-moderate income families while late winter snows still covered the area. In order to qualify for a spot, an adult family member attends monthly classes taught by a Master Gardener and is encouraged to plant a row of produce to be distributed to local food pantries. Currently, there are spots for 24 families, one each for two site managers, and a garden area for the Findlay-Hancock County Community Foundation. 

Located on the south end of Findlay, the First Presbyterian Church has provided tilled, staked garden plots to residents for several years. Plots are assigned on a first come, first served basis for a donation of $10. Large amounts of rainfall this spring have postponed planting, but crops are beginning to show signs of green in the area behind the church. 

Feeding the community

According to Hart, The MENTOR Initiative of Hancock County will give away 90 percent of whatever is harvested and sell the other 10 percent to the community. Revenue from produce sales will be re-invested back into the organization.

“Starting in June, we’ll have a farm stand on the corner of Main and Center Streets in Findlay,” adds Hart. “We’ll be open six days a week and feature completely locally grown food.  We don’t want to compete with Findlay’s Farmers’ Market and plan to close early on Thursdays (when the Farmers’ Market operates). We’ll be happy to distribute the business cards of vendors at the Farmers’ Market and promote them however we can.” 

This summer, Hart plans to experiment with new varieties of melons and pumpkins in preparation for the area’s first Pumpkin Festival set for this fall. He also offers advice to parents on “kid-friendly” gardening.

“Give kids responsibility, but give them the opportunity to fail,” says Hart. “Sometimes adults don’t feel kids can handle caring for a garden and just don’t include them. Remember, though, gardening isn’t for everyone. Be honest about your child’s level of interest.”

Thanks to the availability of community garden spots, the popularity of container gardening and several educational resources, even “city dwellers” in Hancock County can enjoy the fruits of their labor at the dinner table. Whether you’re interested in tending a variety of vegetables, planting fruit trees or even “growing a pizza,” there’s space and help available.

Learn from the experts

Beginners and experienced gardeners can listen to local experts on Tuesday evenings at 7pm this summer at Litzenberg Memorial Woods, located on U.S. Route 224 just west of Findlay. Coordinated through the Hancock Park District, the series of four programs covers a diverse assortment of horticultural interests. Dave Reese, owner of Kaleidoscope Farms, near Mt. Cory, presented the first offering, on growing shiitake mushrooms in May.

On Tuesday, June 14, Ann Brickner of the Perennial Plant Peddler will discuss fragrant plants which return to your garden each year. On July 12, Ann Boyd of My Own Backyard Herbs and Flowers will share recipes and ideas, while Dr. Vicki Motz of Ohio Northern University will wrap up the series on August 9, presenting “Medicinal Properties of Culinary Herbs.” Advance registration is required (along with a small fee) for each program at the Hancock Park District Headquarters, 1424 East Main Cross St., Findlay.

More information is available at www.hancockparks.com.