Community grows with garden venture

Gardens recently located at the Wapakoneta Family YMCA are part of a community effort to produce fresh vegetables and get children and adults active and working outdoors.

Aligning with goals of the Wapakoneta Family YMCA to bring community members together for fun outdoor activities, promote physical activity and good nutrition, and introduce children to healthier living, a $3,000 grant from Lowe’s Never Stop Improving: Toolbox for Education program, allowed for raised and regular garden beds to be laid on the south end of the family activity center.

“One of our strategic plans was to start a garden,” Wapakoneta Family YMCA Program Director Sarah Finkelmeier said.

The community gardens fulfill three of their major areas of focus — youth development, healthy living and social responsibility.

“When you take a look at our three focuses, a community garden really hits every one of those,” Finkelmeier said. “We plan to get the kids involved in it, for it to provide a form of physical activity, and socially, those out there gardening can make so many relationships.”

Wapakoneta City Schools Director of Instruction Julie Miars Golden, who wrote the grant to make the community garden a reality, described the partnership as a wonderful collaboration to expand on a program already underway at Wapakoneta High School.

With the grant funding, students were able to construct the borders for regular garden beds, which can be divided into plots and raised beds for handicap accessibility. The beds were constructed by high school agriculture students under the direction of teacher Chris Turner.

Turner said he wanted to get his students involved in the community garden project beginning last year with six beds behind the high school, as a means to promote community improvement and community involvement.

Scotts Programs supplied $500 through a grant for the beds last year after Turner attended a seminar in Columbus to learn more about the idea. While those beds may be used at no charge, they are not as accessible as the ones at the local YMCA. Much of what is raised there is grown by students or teachers with early produce served in the school cafeterias.

While they weren’t the primary focus this year, the high school gardens have expanded a little to allow for room to plant and grow later season produce. Students oversee the beds there during the summer as they try to raise more produce food service can use once school resumes, while other produce raised when school isn’t in session during the summer is donated to local food pantries.

“Part of the whole idea is summer projects teach students, showing them how to do even more than what we can teach them during the year in class,” Turner said.

He noted there seems to be a large push for gardening, which is on its way back with a lot of different grant funding options available.

Wapakoneta High School senior Nick Fisher helped build walls and sides, as well as drove stakes and did a lot of assembly for the beds at the local YMCA. He completed much of the work at school, where at least 20 students elected to work on the project, putting in as much as 20 hours each.

An experienced wood worker who had completed other projects at home and on the family farm, Fisher said he chose to work on the beds rather than complete his own projects and admitted the work kept him busy.

“I hope what we did helps people out, especially those who are handicap, so they have the same opportunities as everyone else,” Fisher said.

Along with the wooden borders on the beds, students who laid them also prepared drainage tile and stone as well as filled the beds with topsoil.

YMCA members may purchase plots for $10 each. Organizations and groups also may purchase plots, with a Daisy Troop being one of the first to get their garden planted.

“The opportunity came about so quickly we are doing a trial this year,” Finkelmeier said. “Our vision is to have all the 12 plots filled. Eventually, we would like to add fencing and get signs up.”

Any plots not sold this year are expected to be used by the YMCA, which would donate what it raises or will make the produce available to members.

At least one member has pledged to do the same. An avid gardener at her home, she would donate what is raised from her plot at the YMCA.

Finkelmeier said based on how this summer’s trial run goes, they may make tweaks or changes next year and may even look to further expand the program in the future on land the YMCA owns.

“It wasn’t part of our strategic plan until next year, but we couldn’t pass this opportunity by,” Finkelmeier said, noting that they are open to feedback throughout the process.

Future plans also include the possibility of offering different gardening workshops at the YMCA, including how to garden, what are the best plants to grow in the area, and what ones are best paired together to keep pests away.

She said through gardening, they are hoping to continue spreading an epidemic of good health in a variety of ways, including introducing gardening to children, some of whom may have never tasted a tomato fresh out of the garden.

As they proceed with plans, Finkelmeier said they are looking for volunteers to help with weeding, watering and harvesting and also hope to get children attending their summer day camp involved, teaching them where vegetables come from, how they grow, and how to care for them.

Two rain barrels are to be used as the primary water source with other future plans to include starting a compost pile. Tools, water and what compost is available could be used by those gardening plots on the property.

“We want to make it as organic as possible,” Finkelmeier said.