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Published: Thursday, 7/20/2006

City council hopeful backs community gardens

Joe McNamara, candidate for Toledo City Council, digs a hole at the Glenwood Community Garden with the help of, from left, My'Azha Mays, 7, Lavelle Marshall, 7, and Lavaughn Marshall, 6. Joe McNamara, candidate for Toledo City Council, digs a hole at the Glenwood Community Garden with the help of, from left, My'Azha Mays, 7, Lavelle Marshall, 7, and Lavaughn Marshall, 6.

Toledo City Council candidate Joe McNamara says community gardens make a good hedge against crime, and that's why he'd like to see the number of such gardens grow.

Amid the smell of horse manure and the leafy branches of tall tomato plants at a central city garden yesterday, Mr. McNamara called for the creation of a task force to promote community gardens and an inventory of vacant city-owned lots that could be used for them.

Mr. McNamara, 29, a lawyer and an unendorsed Democrat, is running in the Nov. 7 special election for the three years remaining on the at-large city council seat of Bob McCloskey, who resigned in May and was convicted of state and federal bribery charges.

Closer-knit neighborhoods are less prone to crime, substance abuse, and juvenile delinquency, Mr. McNamara said.

"By fighting crime at its roots with initiatives like this, we save taxpayers money, enrich the lives of community residents and children, and add value to our neighborhoods," he said.

As part of yesterday's event, his campaign donated three fruit trees and two bushes to the garden next to Glenwood Lutheran Church, 2545 Monroe St.

The city already has about 37 community gardens operated by Toledo GROWS, an offshoot of Toledo Botanical Garden.

Michael Szuberla, director of Toledo GROWS, said the agency has partnerships with several organizations serving youths, including youths who have been convicted of crimes, to learn about taking care of a garden.

Mr. Szuberla was working at the Glenwood church garden when Mr. McNamara had his news event, but stressed that he was not endorsing a candidate in the election.

The city owns about 800 vacant parcels that are available for sale, said Andy Ferrara, city real estate manager. He said the city pays contractors, youth entrepreneurs, and some church groups to mow the lots, and he said the list of lots for sale is available to city council and the public.

Mr. McNamara didn't have an estimated cost of adding new community gardens, but predicted it would be negligible and would be offset by savings in mowing the parcels.

Not surprisingly, neither Mayor Carty Finkbeiner nor Mr. McNamara's three major opponents expressed any major disagreement with public vegetable gardens.

Unendorsed Democrat Bob Vasquez said community gardens are a good way for neighbors to meet one another, but he said a higher priority for public safety is putting more officers on the streets with adequate equipment.

Incumbent Lourdes Santiago, the endorsed Democrat, said that Toledo Botanical Garden already has an effort under way to expand the gardens. She said the city provides vacant lots to community development corporations for housing.

Republican David Schulz said Mr. McNamara deserves credit for creative thinking. He said community policing, with more officers in the neighborhood, would have a more immediate impact on public safety.

Mr. Finkbeiner cited the ongoing activities of Toledo GROWS: "We could do more with that."

Contact Tom Troy at:

tomtroy@theblade.com or


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