ommunity gardens can yield more than produce.

To be sure, many head to these shared plots of land simply to grow flowers.

But whether they are cultivating a rented plot of land at the Municipal Community Gardens or whether they’re getting the kids at Foundation For Youth to dig in the dirt for the first time ever, these gardeners are planting deeper seeds of community.

Although community gardens come and go, falling prey to lack of interest or vandalism, Columbus still has its fair share of them. Three have gone “out of business,” said Kris Medic, agriculture and natural resources educator at the Bartholomew County Purdue Extension Office, but nine remain available.

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“It is the nature of the beast,” Medic said.

Community gardens are operated by neighborhood organizations, churches, schools and youth organizations, groups of corporate employees, as well as individuals who have rented land at the city’s community garden by the airport. Each year, Medic organizes walkabout tours of community gardens.

For this year, Medic has identified nine community or school gardens in Columbus:

Columbus Municipal Airport (run by the city)

Reformed Presbyterian Church

Second Baptist Church

Garden City Church of Christ

Faith Ministries

First Baptist Church

Foundation for Youth

Columbus Signature Academy — New Tech High School

Lincoln-Central Neighborhood Family Center

Plots going fast

The city-owned community garden site by the airport features 137 plots. Large plots are 45 feet by 22½ feet and are available for $15 a year. Smaller plots are 22½ feet by 22½ feet and cost $10 per year.

The city community gardens are in their 35th year, said Robin Hilber, community development programs coordinator. Renters can take more than one plot, with a limit of four large plots and eight small plots, she said.

The garden boasts six water sources. Renters cannot use pesticides and are expected to control weeds on their land.

“It’s really a neat opportunity,” Hilber said. “It can be a learning experience.”

The plots rent out quickly. As of mid-March, only 16 plots remained.

Annual rite

Sande Hummel is one gardener who nabs several plots each year, having gardened for the past 20 years.Hummel uses her community garden plots to grow a variety of chili peppers, sunflowers, squash and Lima beans. Hummel, who also runs the Columbus City Farmers Market, grew up gardening.

“My father worked the steel mills for years,” she said. “Gardening was a necessity. There were many times they would be on strike, and you had to live off your garden.”

The community garden offers learning experiences for all ages. Hummel’s wish is that Columbus would have even more of them.

“I feel that we need more community gardens in different areas of town,” Hummel said. “How could someone from 46 West travel all this way in here? There should be land out there that could be developed for those people — and for people on the east side, too.”

Young gardeners

Bronze-level master gardener Sherry Warner is preparing herself for another season of gardening. She’s now in her sixth year of teaching children, ages 4 to 11, how to garden at Foundation for Youth.Beginning in May, right around Mother’s Day, Warner will work with two groups of children to grow lettuce, strawberries, cucumbers, tomatoes, kohlrabi and popcorn.

“The kids plant everything; weed, mulch and then harvest it,” Warner said. “A lot of these are city kids. This might be the first time they’ve ever dug in the dirt.”

The children will harvest repeatedly throughout the season and will prepare and consume everything they grow. The program is a chance for children to get outside, in the fresh air, Warner said. It’s also a chance to see where their food comes from.

“It doesn’t come out of a box or a can,” she said. “They get to see it from a seed right on up to the product they eat.”

Neighborhoo

d gardenEmployees and volunteers at the Lincoln-Central Neighborhood Family Center work to create a safe and caring neighborhood where all individuals are treated with respect and live in harmony with their community.

The community garden, in the back of the family center’s offices on Sycamore Street, helps neighbors in the community cultivate just that harmony, outreach coordinator Diane Doup said.

The garden started in 2013 as Columbus native Jackson Renshaw’s senior project. Now a student in Florida, Renshaw and his family return each year to resurrect the garden, Doup said.

Volunteers weeded the space during spring break, and planting will begin in May.

Neighborhood center employees and volunteers harvest as produce ripens, putting crops in a basket by the garden. Neighborhood residents can help themselves; some with their own backyard gardens will contribute to the basket.

This year, a group of Cummins employees have approached the neighborhood center about contributing their output and the nonprofit also has ties to another community garden at Second Baptist Church.

“It’s a really neat experience for people to do together, to build a sense of community,” Doup said. “By sharing vegetables with each other, by working together to plant and weed and water, and getting to know their neighbors and sharing with each other — I think there’s a whole sense of community that goes with it.”

Randy Allman, executive director of the Lincoln-Central Neighborhood Family Center, sees the garden as contributing to the nonprofit’s holistic approach to self sufficiency for its clients.

“One of the themes that we have here at Lincoln-Central is trying to get people to self-sufficiency,” Allman said.

“Self-sufficiency means a lot of things. It means getting a job, but it also means transportation issues so they can work,” he said.

The gardens are also an opportunity to grow and eat healthy food vs. relying on fast-food restaurants, Allman said.

“Ours is more of a holistic approach,” he said. “It means healthy affordable living.”

Community garden resources

Here are some places where you can learn more about community gardens in Columbus.

Purdue Extension – Bartholomew County: 965 Repp Drive, Columbus. Phone: 812-379-1665.

City of Columbus Community Development Department: City Hall, 123 Washington St., Suite 8, Columbus. Phone: 812-376-2520.

Lincoln-Central Neighborhood Family Center: 1039 Sycamore St., Columbus. Phone: 812-379-1630.

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Jenny Elig is a reporter for The Republic. She can be reached at jelig@therepublic.com or 812-379-5671.