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Associated Press
Horace Shrader, left, gives directions to Sean McGruder at the East End Community Garden in Henderson, Ky., across the river from Evansville.

Cultivating for community

Evansville area’s urban gardens feed, educate

– They may look like muddy plots now, but in coming months, vacant lots and empty fields around Evansville will bloom and overflow with fresh produce.

Several neighborhoods and communities are independently transforming unused urban land into lush community gardens.

It’s a trend that’s gained popularity nationwide, and there are at least nine in the Evansville area. Local organizers say gardening brings together and elevates a community, provides the people who live there with fresh, nutritious foods and educates children about where food comes from.

The look, layout and contents of any single community garden vary widely. Some gardens are designed by a few dedicated volunteers for optimum food production. Others are divided into many small plots that individuals can claim. Still others are built specifically to educate.

That’s the mission of the Tri-State Food Bank’s Kid’s Crop Garden, said Kim Sievers, who heads the food bank’s donor relations and fund development and coordinates the 5-year-old garden.

“A lot of kids that live in the inner city live in apartments,” she told the Evansville Courier & Press. “I like to tell this story: One year (during a summer program), I pulled the husk off some corn and this kid said, ‘Wow, we thought corn came out of a can.’ They had no idea you could grow food. Nobody thought to tell them.”

This year, Sievers has a group of Girl Scouts helping with the garden. She plans to grow mainly tomatoes and watermelon, the food bank’s most popular produce.

The Patchwork Central Community Garden – possibly Evansville’s oldest, started in 1995 – has a more bountiful harvest. A few dedicated volunteers grow an array of fruits and vegetables on its nearly 50-square-foot garden. Patchwork Central, a faith-based community outreach group, uses the garden to supplement its food pantry and teach children about gardening, Executive Director Amy Rich said.

At least four Evansville-area groups plan to start gardens this year, all in low-income areas.

Melodie Shrader is building 25 raised beds on a vacant lot she owns on Washington Street in Henderson, Ky. Shrader plans to name it the East End Community Garden. A group of volunteers will maintain eight beds and donate the produce to area food banks, she said.

The 17 other beds are free for anyone to claim.

“A garden can change the way you think about a neighborhood,” Shrader said. “My hope is that it will not only be an inspiration, but it will take on the personality of those who participate.”

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