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Published: Thursday, 4/26/2012 - Updated: 2 years ago

Urban gardens boost quality of life, expert says

BY KATE GIAMMARISE
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Ken Dunn Ken Dunn
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Communities such as Toledo can build value through urban agriculture, believes Ken Dunn, who runs a recycling and urban gardening group in Chicago.

Mr. Dunn spoke at "Conversations to End Hunger," an event Wednesday at the Main Library downtown. It was sponsored by ProMedica, YMCA and JCC of Great Toledo, United Way of Greater Toledo, the Urban Affairs Center at the University of Toledo, and Toledo GROWS.

The event sought to spark discussions about poverty, hunger, obesity, local economies, and local food systems.

Poor nutrition and obesity have a tremendous impact in Ohio and locally, said Randy Oostra, president and chief executive officer of ProMedica.

"From a health-care perspective, it's a huge issue, and it's a health-care issue," he said.

According to the most recent statistics, Lucas County has 99,746 food-stamp recipients -- nearly a quarter of the county's residents, according to the county's Department of Job and Family Services.

Mr. Dunn said Toledo can use resources it has -- available vacant land and manpower -- to build strong local food systems that aid low-income communities.

"Urban agriculture can be the anchor for urban revitalization," he told the dozens of people who had gathered to hear his speech.

However, Mr. Dunn said his group -- the Resource Center -- also remains flexible and can move its garden sites around to different lots within the Chicago neighborhoods where it works.

"We don't want to bring all of our farming to what was once dense and sustainable [neighborhoods]," he said, as he showed slides of the produce his group grows and sells in neighborhoods and to high-end restaurants.

His organization aims "to reverse waste and to improve the quality of life for urban dwellers," according to the agency's Web site.

The group strives for "the economic and educational revitalization of city neighborhoods through recycling, urban gardening, composting, and other programs that reclaim and reuse resources."

Michele Toth, chief executive officer of Providence Center, a pantry and resource center in South Toledo, said she thought Mr. Dunn's presentation was excellent.

"The challenge is keeping it simple," she said. "It was a simple message."

Toledo GROWs has opened a $300,000 Oneida City Farm Training Center on Oneida Street, where Owens Community College holds urban agriculture classes and youths referred through juvenile court are involved in an employment training program.

Contact Kate Giammarise at: kgiammarise@theblade.com or 419-724-6091.



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