COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Can a garden save a community?
Civic leader Aaron Hopkins thinks so — that’s why he and other residents have sowed seeds of change at South Side Family Farms’s community gardens in the Karns Park neighborhood.
On an unseasonably warm November day, Hopkins pounds posts into the ground where, he said, a pavilion will serve as a farm stand.
He has a few titles around here: handyman to some, Minister Aaron to others.
“We don’t have access to good quality food that will affect quality of life, and this garden provides food to a lot of people for free,” Hopkins said.
About 250 people reap the garden’s benefits each week, taking home fresh carrots, potatoes, cucumbers — whatever is in season.
Helping grow that stuff is Laura Quiceno from Columbia, who earned her master’s in urban farming at Ohio State University. By helping feed this neighborhood, Quiceno said she believes she can help feed the world.
“Communities can organize and develop and learn and grow.” Quiceno said.
A bulk of the produce is grown on more acreage in Johnstown, about 25 miles away from the city. Hopkins said the gardens will soon provide vegetables twice a week, with daily gardening lessons.
Through engaging community members, Hopkins said he hopes the garden will help tackle social problems facing the city — including youth violence.
“Restorative justice community service — so they know what it is to pay for something you’ve done,” Hopkins said. He suggested the garden might serve as an alternative to the penal system, enabling troubled youths and adults to give back to the community instead of serving sentences in corrections facilities.
Quiceno agreed, saying a successful community garden requires people to shift their perspective of what it means to be a neighbor. Instead of self-interest — which she said is forwarded by the tragedy of the commons economic theory — Quiceno said neighborhoods must work together for the common good.
Working with their hands, learning valuable skills and being able to see the results of their hard work — Quiceno said she hopes these things can change young people’s priorities.
“We’d like to get them away from the video games and the negative influences,” said Quiceno. “I’d like to see them with some dollars in their pockets doing it the right way.”
South Side Family Farms has multiple partners, including United Way, Nationwide Children’s Hospital and Ohio State. You can learn more about the group’s initiatives or sign up to volunteer on its website.