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Published: Tuesday, 4/29/2014 - Updated: 7 months ago

COMMENTARY

City’s urban gardening effort growing

BY KEITH C. BURRIS
COLUMNIST FOR THE BLADE

Marcy Kaptur gets angry sometimes when she talks about urban gardening.

She tells me it’s been “a taffy pull” to get her fellow congressmen and the U.S. Department of Agriculture interested.

But that’s begun to change — in Toledo and in the country.

Last week, two significant events occurred in Toledo urban gardening. One was the dedication of Frederick Douglass Community Gardens, across from the historic Frederick Douglass Center on Indiana Avenue.

The project, the result of collaboration among many actors — from the Port Authority to the Land Bank to the Douglass Center — was the latest blossoming of Toledo GROWs, the urban gardening arm of Toledo Botanical Garden. There are now 140 urban gardens in this region under its sponsorship.

Why is this important? Well, this movement reclaims urban space and brings affordable, healthy food to people in the central city who lack a supermarket. It teaches growing skills. And it builds community.

It also doesn’t cost much.

Yet, as Miss Kaptur pointed out in remarks at the dedication, there is commercial potential here. Products from the gardens may be used to supply school lunches and church banquets.

Jobs are the big point of Sustainable Foods LLC, which kicked off Thursday night. Located at the Ohlman Farms greenhouse on Hill Avenue, this is a 24/​7, indoor, hydroponic farm. It grows lettuce and herbs but will soon branch out to tomatoes. The idea is to similarly develop other small patches of land and provide the same thing as Toledo Grows — good food to immediate neighborhoods — but with a twist : Each indoor farm will provide three to four jobs each at $11 an hour. The hope is to eventually create 300 jobs. The project is being managed by Toledo’s resident urban agriculture visionary, Bryan Ellis, assisted by a wide coalition. Mayor Mike Collins, an avid supporter, wants Sus-tainable Foods to become a main supplier for the Erie Street Market.

At a reception, I asked Toledo African-American Chamber of Commerce President Jay Black if he thought this might become a model for urban renewal. He said it could become a model for an urban economy.

This is what Miss Kaptur has been preaching for years. But she is particularly keen on an agricultural magnet school in the city, which she believes could help fill the void of no community college in the city proper. Such a school is a success in Chicago, which has turned much of its blight into farming, and jobs.

As the Rev. John Walthall of Mt. Ararat Missionary Church told me at the Frederick Douglass event, we no longer have the luxury of choosing between a technical and a liberal education for our young. He invoked W.E.B. Du Bois: It has to be both.

Miss Kaptur told the crowd: We live in a natural garden. Our city was once lake bed. Everything and anything can grow here, including work.

Keith C. Burris is a columnist for The Blade.

Contact him at: kburris@theblade.com or 419-724-6266.



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