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Community gardens initiative brings people, produce together

By Vicky O. Misa | Vicky.misa@news-star.com | (405) 214-3962 | Twitter: @Vicky_NewsStar
The Shawnee News-Star

In an effort that easily boasts multiple benefits, local participants are growing their own produce as they build bonds with neighbors — in community gardens.

The program was implemented in Shawnee in part through the efforts of Community Renewal of Pottawatomie County.

“Of course the health benefits to consuming more vegetables and fruit are well known, but for many Shawnee residents, securing basic access to affordable, healthy food is a challenge,” Community Renewal Communications and Resource Development Officer Erica Bass said. “There are food deserts in the community, with no grocery stores within a reasonable walking distance and/or no safe routes to walk or bicycle to a store.”

But community gardens aren’t just about eating healthy fruits and vegetables. Gardening helps people build dignity through the satisfaction inherent in the self-reliance of creating and growing their own food, she said.

“It’s also a positive social networking activity, a way to make new friends and engage with neighbors,” Bass said. “And you can garden with friends while socially distancing.”

All ages can — and do — participate, she said.

“People need a safe and neutral environment where they can make connections, and we see the gardens as the community’s space where relationships can develop in a positive setting,” she said. “We want to let people know they belong there, even if they aren’t gardening.”

Community Renewal hopes to enhance the existing gardens with more picnic tables and gazebos, Bass said.

In the meantime, there is an ongoing need for more neighborhood involvement in the existing gardens.

People who live nearby are needed to help, she said.

“During the peak growing seasons much of the produce ripens quickly and needs to be picked as soon as possible,” Bass said. “Having close neighbors on board and able to help on short notice is critical.”

Volunteers also are needed to keep the gardens watered and weeded, she said.

Park and Wall community garden

The first local community garden was established at the intersection of Park and Wall in a corner lot donated by local philanthropists, Bass said.

Volunteers include neighbors, Community Renewal staff and Oklahoma Baptist University students.

The Garden at Park and Wall grows a wide variety of produce, including carrots, squash, eggplant, watermelon and tomatoes.

A new composting program was recently implemented at the garden.

“Anybody can plant and harvest at the Park and Wall (garden), and all are welcome,” Bass said.

For more information, visit Facebook and search Shawnee Community Garden, The Garden at Park and Wall.

Kickapoo Park Community Garden

The Kickapoo Park Community Garden, or Kickapoo Friendship Garden, was established in 2018 as a collaborative effort between the Blue Zones Project Pottawatomie County Community Garden Sub-Committee and Community Renewal. Blue Zones Project team members and stakeholders have supported the initiative by volunteering their time and raising local awareness of the initiative.

The Kickapoo Friendship Garden took shape when area residents expressed their interest in having a community garden in conjunction with a Community Renewal Friendship House that was being built in the neighborhood at the time. The Friendship House is adjacent to the garden.

“The Kickapoo Park neighborhood is one of the local areas with limited access to healthy food options,” Bass said, “so the location of this garden is ideal for supporting many of our neighbors in need.”

The garden features a wide variety of vegetables and several fruit trees, including some planted by SSM St. Anthony Hospital-Shawnee.

Community Renewal

Community Renewal is a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping neighbors restore their communities through intentional relationships, and was introduced to Shawnee and Pottawatomie County in 2015 through the patronage of the Avedis Foundation.

The organization works to foster connections, with an emphasis on three focus areas:

• Neighbor-to-Neighbor Network — a grassroots, community-wide initiative to combat loneliness through meaningful neighborhood connections;

• We Care. Campus Initiative — raising up the next generation of good neighbors through character development programs based in local schools; and

• Friendship Houses — homes staffed with full-time community coordinators to support neighbors in restoring their community from the inside out. A community garden is adjacent to the first Friendship House established at 812 W. 7th Street in Kickapoo Park in Shawnee.