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Neighborhood gardens grow community, savings

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Community gardens may not be an entirely new enterprise for Yellow Springs residents with green thumbs. But neighborhood gardens — shared plots for gardening with others near and within neighborhoods on Village-owned land — are new, and may be growing on land near you this year. Residents can still sign up for a plot for spring planting.

“This is fairly unusual in the United States, where land is usually bought, sold or rented,” said Douglas Bailey, also known as Thor, who is the neighborhood gardens initiative point-of-contact on the Environmental Commission, or EC, the sponsoring organization for the undertaking. The concept has been in development for two years in close consultation with Council, the Village manager, and Village Planner Ed Amrhein.

In other countries such as the Bahamas, every citizen is entitled to garden on “queen’s land,” Bailey said, a relic of colonial days that persists today, even though the Bahamian government — not the queen — now owns the land.

Gardening on the commons here in Yellow Springs stands to bring neighbors together in a common pursuit, according to Bailey, a pursuit that has benefits beyond the harvest. The EC sees the initiative as a community-building practice that will promote affordability through the growing seasons and increase diversity of all kinds by promoting interaction between neighbors who might not otherwise have cause to work together.

For Amrhein, the initiative is a way to give individuals who don’t have land appropriate for gardening, or who may lack the skills and experience to go it alone, a way to jump in with other neighbors. Community is built of smaller pieces, and neighborhood gardens are a small but important piece of an effort to strengthen community and localize the village’s food production.
This initiative “reaches out in both directions,” Amrhein said, “from the neighborhood to individuals and from neighborhoods to community.”

About one-fifth of the 20 or so people who have already signed up for plots volunteered that this opportunity to garden was going to help them stay in town by reducing their costs of living, according to Bailey. In addition, Bob Acomb has volunteered his plow services to till the land, and has offered to donate topsoil if it is needed, which largely eliminates start-up costs.
“I tend to view this as more of a social movement,” Bailey said, noting the collaborative nature of gardening together. “We are trying to de-emphasize costs entirely.”

But the neighborhood gardens initiative hasn’t been without controversy, Bailey and Amrhein said. Some dislike change, and would prefer that an empty lot or park remain as is. But both Bailey and Amrhein are confident that whatever issues or needs arise with each individual location can be addressed and resolved.

A sense of ownership tends to mark community garden plots, Bailey said, and he expects that the neighborhood gardens will take off with new ideas and directions once neighbors get their hands together in the soil.

But there is an opportunity for community interaction for those who garden on their own private land, too. A group loosely known as the “Yellow Springs Community Gardeners” convenes seed swaps and potlucks with speakers on various topics of interest to those who garden and harvest. In the future, gardening bloggers will chart their experiences and reflect on having their hands in the dirt at Community members who would like to keep updated about upcoming seed swaps and potlucks are encouraged to e-mail Eric Johnson at to get on the e-mail list or to become a garden blogger.

According to Amrhein, there is currently enough interest to turn the soil at two or three of the seven locations identified by Council as potential neighborhood garden sites. Community members can request space by calling Bailey at 767-2729.

After Council gives its final approval to till the ground at the sites that have generated enough interest, neighbors will convene at the proposed garden sites with Bailey to decide how to lay out the plots, likely within the next couple of weeks.

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