Tomatoes, kale, watermelon, and squash were just some of the vegetables harvested at the South Jackson Community Garden in Lima, Ohio during the afternoon of September 26th, 2020. Hosted by Green Sanctuary and the Wheelhouse, the garden's Open House was part of the City of Lima's Neighborhood Impact Week.
To appreciate the festivities of the day, which included music, educational activities, and food distribution by the West Ohio Food Bank, you have to go back to a cold, rainy November morning in 2019. Joined by landscape architecture students from the Knowlton School, as well as by project stakeholders and neighborhood volunteers, Landscape Architecture Professor of Practice Tameka Sims (MLA ’14) planted trees, native grasses and bushes, and constructed elevated planting gardens on the two-acre site.
The South Jackson Community Garden Project grew out of an Ohio State Connect and Collaborate Grant to reuse vacant land within Lima to create an urban garden and community space for food and health-related activities. Additional funding was provided by Mercy Health, a provider of health care and medical services located in Lima. Following the parcel’s allocation for the project by the Lima Land Bank, Sims was tasked with designing and implementing the community garden.
“The challenge was to design a space that is flexible enough for many different organizations to use as needed to service one particular neighborhood,” commented Sims, who indicated the garden could host a variety of activities that may include mobile health clinics, nutritional workshops and cooking/grilling demonstrations, as well as food distribution services. "The site was selected because it exists with a food desert, where citizens—especially of an older generation—may not have the means or funds to acquire and purchase food."
Several months before the garden's Open House, a group of neighborhood residents and project partners met twice a week to prepare the twelve raised garden beds and to plant and water the vegetables. Efforts to advance the garden's viability and develop stakeholder engagement were conducted by OSU Extension, specifically Nancy Bowen-Ellzey, a field specialist in community economics and development who is located at OSU Lima.
The garden in the South Jackson neighborhood is an outgrowth of earlier efforts by Knowlton School faculty in collaboration with the OSU Extension, Ohio State Lima, and the city of Lima, to revitalize vacant and abandoned land in Lima. The Ohio Land Exchange (OH/LEX) initiative, developed by Tijs van Maasakkers from the city and regional planning section, and landscape architecture faculty Kristi Cheramie and Jake Boswell, aims to increase the productive use of vacant properties in shrinking midwest cities by effectively fostering and facilitating stakeholder interactions and engagement.
Van Maasakkers indicates this can be a challenge as many neighborhoods in cities like Lima have little or no formal organizations left that represent their interests. "Our reuse strategy has therefore become a community organization strategy at the same time, meaning we are spending significant time and effort on building up a network of neighbors and volunteers that are excited about reusing vacant lots in their part of town," commented Van Maasakkers. "While this is both a challenge and potential strength of the approach, it does add to the time it takes to move from the idea stage to the sustainable implementation of even a relatively modest intervention like the creation of a community garden."
With the South Jackson Community Garden in fruition, plans now include an open-air shelter and a play/entertainment area for children. The scheduling of garden activities will be managed by local stakeholders.