By Feoshia Henderson Davis
In an age where kids are more likely to snack on manufactured “food products” than fresh peaches or carrots, gardening seems like a relic of the past.
Gardening is a methodical process that demands daily attention and delivers slowly. It’s not exactly how the modern world works. And that’s exactly why, in some parts of Northern Kentucky, it’s making a small resurgence.
A trio of Northern Kentucky organizations are in the third season of hosting community gardens. The free, 10-foot-by-10-foot plots are at three Campbell County locations: Northern Kentucky University, the Highland Heights City Building and Asbury United Methodist Church. The University of Kentucky and Cooperative Extension Service and Campbell County Cooperative Extension Office also support the garden program.
The number of people coming out to garden has grown over the past few years; about 75 plots are being tended says Maggie Gough, the assistant director of wellness at NKU. Gough is a member of the committee that oversees the gardening program.
“It’s open to anyone in the community. You don’t have to live here. We really hope to continue to grow,” Gough says.
Gardeners come from all walks of life
A wide variety of people have joined the program from college professors and students, to young families and seniors who live in condos and can’t garden there.
“It’s a really unique group of people who have come together. People do it for different reasons. Some parents want to teach their children about gardening, some want to give their produce back to the poor and some want to support health and wellness in the community, like me,” she says.
Others just love the taste of fresh-from-the-garden food.
Jeff Varrone, an NKU faculty member, has been part of the program since its beginning. This year he’s growing carrots, squash, okra, various peppers and cucumbers.
He spent the first two years bringing gardening into the classroom.
“I worked with students from my class, using the garden as a living workshop, allowing them to find parallels between starting and growing a garden and starting and growing through college. It was a great tool for learning. Students not only worked on the garden, but also wrote several reflection papers on the topic, Varrone says.
Varrone never gardened until the program came along.
“I started getting involved as a way to learn a new skill. I had never been a gardener before and it has been an amazing experience each year to start with just seeds and soil, and to grow and harvest various vegetables,” he says.
Now it’s spurred entrepreneurial ambition.
“I’ve been exploring options for selling and donating the produce to a farmer’s market. Additionally, I have a dream of actually creating a line of pickles called “Freight Train Pickles: Comin’ in hot!” turning my peppers and cucumbers into a tasty treat to be found on local grocery store shelves,” he says.
Gardening creates community
Lots of planning, care and preparation went into making the community garden thrive. Much of the first year was spent softening the soil and making it more suitable for gardening. As anyone who gardens in Kentucky knows, it can be tough to grow veggies in hard clay soil.
At the beginning of each season gardens go through an orientation, learning gardening tips and proper procedures for being part of the gardening community. (For instance, gardens should be cleared by the end of October.) It gives gardeners a chance to meet each other and jot down contact information if they need help.
Though the plots are free, gardeners bring their own plants. Water is provided on-site, and gardeners must use organic fertilizers and pesticides in line with the program’s all-organic commitment.
Though the garden plots are on three different sites, gardeners are a community in the true sense of the word. For instance, if one site has extra volunteers they may go to another site to help.
“We tag team on resources and knowledge and support. Each garden is run by each institution and also together. So everyone owns a piece and no one really owns a piece,” explains Gough.
Within each garden there is also a community culture. Some gardeners donate part of their produce to local food banks or charities, neighbors and friends will tend plots side-by side. And when people are on vacation, they’ll invite a representative of a local food pantry to harvest the food for the nonprofit.
The program has become so popular that a fourth spot, at NKU’s Griffin Hall will be starting its own garden next year. Griffin Hall houses the College of Informatics and will be available only to the Griffin Hall community.
Gardening seems old-fashioned, especially juxtaposed to NKU’s state-of-the-art informatics building. But it just shows that no matter how fast our society goes, some aspects of humanity are timeless, Gough says.
“In the garden, things happen in their own time, and you learn a sense of patience. When things become hectic and go-go-go, there is something soothing about gardening and being out in nature, talking with friends and meeting new people.”