Archived Story

Dowagiac considers community gardening

Published 10:32pm Wednesday, March 14, 2012

In setting out to restart a community garden, Dowagiac isn’t trying to reinvent the wheelbarrow, it turned to fields of green thumbs in neighboring Niles.

Ten people met Tuesday evening at Carol and Dave Heflin’s Foodies Fresh Cafe with Mark VanTil of Berrien Springs to pick Niles Community Garden’s executive director’s brain.

Ironically, it is two years to the day — March 14, 2010 — when Niles embarked on such an endeavor. Now NCG is among 15 gardens in the country vying for one of five $4,000 grants from the DeLoach Vineyards Community Gardens Contests.

People can vote online once a day for their favorite until Aug. 6.

Four top vote-getters take home the grants.

VanTil said Niles’ goal is having a garden at every school in the Community Schools district. He encouraged Dowagiac by pointing out that the organizational meeting at Westside, which attracted four people.

Networking is the key to growing such a program, he said.

“A good plan is the best beginning” and “just look around and knock on doors” for seed money for the previous garden by the fire station and another site to be developed on Halstead Street.

At the mention of a greenhouse, gardeners’ eyes fairly lit up at the thought of the vacant FFA one at Union High School.

Niles has eight organic gardens covering three acres.

The group donated a ton of produce to local food banks and is moving toward a gleaning program in which it would like eventually to involve Dowagiac.
NCG, which approaches its third growing season having exploded from two plots and 14 people to more than 130 and a sunflower garden at Northside Child Development Center, satiates curiosity about where food comes from with the shared plots, which also re-connect the community socially, from Girl Scouts to seniors. Northside made $5,800 selling pumpkins.

Flowers are grown at each garden, with zinnias Niles’ “signature,” VanTil said.

The City of Niles allocated $8,000 in community block grant funding to the gardens last year and will kick in $10,000 this year.

“We’ve moved so far away from nature in our schools,” he said, “but we’re fortunate in our area to be surrounded by farms and orchards. In a lot of America kids are trapped in their homes.”

Also, VanTil counseled, “Don’t be surprised at what people don’t know,” although with all the national gardening websites a click away, the computer is the “best gardening tool ever invented.”

With plans for fruit trees in Niles, “We’re going to do some fruit drying and show people how to preserve food in different ways.”

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