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Published: Wednesday, 4/19/2006

Neighbors help their garden grow


The grassy lots at the corner of Belmont Avenue and Elizabeth Street, near the Stewart Academy for Girls, doesn t look like much today, but organizers say there will be something good growing there this summer.

The lots will be transformed into a community garden, with the help of Organized Neighbors Yielding eXcellence, the Frederick Douglass Community Association, and the Toledo Botanical Garden. Organizers said they hope to see tomatoes, onions, cabbage, and an assortment of other vegetables growing along with flowers blooming in the lots before the start of the next school year.

Our focus is that this is something for the neighborhood, said Michael Szuberla, coordinator of Toledo GROWS, an outreach group of the Toledo Botanical Garden, which is helping develop the community garden. For the students, we want the garden to be an outdoor classroom, where they can study nutrition, health, and outdoor science.

The Toledo Botanical Garden has started 45 community gardens around the Toledo area. AmeriCorp volunteers will be working with neighborhood students making sure the garden grows.

The AmeriCorp program was created by the National Community Trust Act of 1993 and provides educational grants to Americans of all ages and backgrounds in exchange for volunteer service.

ONYX officials said the Fiskar Corp., Huntington Bank, and Home Depot also made contributions to the garden.

The community garden is a way we can provide green space that you don t normally find in an urban area, but it s also a way to bring people together, said Deborah Younger, ONYX s executive director. It s a way to do something constructive and a way of community building and allowing neighbors to get to know each other.

Ms. Younger said ONYX helped win grants for the project and is providing water, plants and seeds.

Josetta Akpan, a youth worker with the Frederick Douglass Community Association, said between 50 to 75 children from neighborhood schools and the association will participate in the program this summer. She said Toledo GROWS has already been working with many of the students.

She said gardening tools and supplies will be housed in the J.B. Simmons Building, where the association is located.

It s amazing, Ms. Akpan said. When they put their little hands in the dirt, it s like magic. The kids are too excited about it all. We want to see things grow. They will pull the weeds and do the boring part, too. In the end, I want it to be a sort of a market garden where they will have vegetables to sell. They won t make much money but it s about giving them that opportunity.

Mr. Szuberla said work on improving the soil and getting it ready for seeding is the most pressing need. An official ground breaking will occur in early May.

Ms. Akpan said she hopes to receive donations to put a fence around the garden to keep stray animals out. She said some of the students will be sent door to door in the neighborhood making residents aware of the garden and inviting them to participate.

We want to involve the whole community, Ms. Akpan said.

Contact Clyde Hughes at: chughes@theblade.comor 419-724-6095.

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