Garden is a True Community Asset

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Tompkins Weekly – March 15, 2010
by Marnie Kirchgessner

The Ithaca Town Board in February, 2009 adopted a simple yet powerful resolution supporting the establishment of a community garden on park land on West Hill.

The resolution acknowledged multiple benefits of community gardening; effective use of public space with a low cost of maintenance; improving the value of adjacent properties; providing spaces for quiet retreat and to heighten people’s awareness and appreciation for living things; and keeping with the goals of the Town of Ithaca’s Parks, Recreation & Open Space Plan by improving the environment and providing a fulfilling recreational opportunity for participating residents.

The resolution further stated community gardens build a sense of community; provide space for exercise and food production, addressing local and national issues such as food insecurity and obesity; and serve as outdoor classrooms where youth and adults can learn valuable skills including communication, responsibility and cooperation.

Community gardens offer a unique opportunity to establish relationships within and across physical and social boundaries improving people’s sense of well being…  With this act the Town of Ithaca Board unanimously determined where a suitable garden could be sited.

This declaration while seemingly innocuous was revolutionary as it placed the Town of Ithaca on the forefront of green recreation. This type of recreation works within green infrastructure which is strategically planned and managed networks of natural lands, working landscapes and other open spaces that conserve ecosystem functions and provide associated benefits to human populations.

The foundation of green infrastructure is their natural elements – woodlands, wetlands, rivers, grasslands – that work together as a whole to sustain ecological values and functions. The goal is to re-establish a healthy, sustainable relationship with the outdoors. Additional elements and functions can then be added to the network, depending on the desires and needs of the designers – working lands, trails and other recreational features, and cultural and historic sites.

The West Hill Community Garden at Linderman Creek is a 200’by 200’ fenced area divided into 100 plots with a 30’ by 200’ children’s and community area. Last year 86 plots were assigned and in January, 2010 letters went out to those participants to determine their interest in participating in the 2010 gardening season. These individuals were given until March 1, 2010 to respond to assure reassignment to their former plots.

The Town is now accepting applications from the public with forms available at the Town’s website The garden is located off Mecklenburg Road some distance from parking at Linderman Creek which agreed to a number of easements to allow the project to happen. The setting affords a peaceful, naturalized environment for families and individuals to grow plants in plots either 10’ by 10’ or  20’ by 20’.

The larger plot (400 square feet) can yield 600 pounds of produce in a six month growing season. The West Hill Community Garden was still producing on December 2, 2009. Financial eligibility documentation allows qualifying participants the opportunity to garden free. Last year 83% qualified.

Details are available at the Town’s website or questions may be directed to Recreation & Youth Coordinator Marnie Kirchgessner by phone at 273-1721 Ext 136 or by email Applications will be accepted until the garden is full.

The Garden suffered no vandalism. There were no complaints aMbout lost produce. Seeds and tools were purchased and shared. Local growers Earlybird and West Hill Organic Farm were extremely generous with donations of plant material. It is clear this effort has benefited the lives of many and establishes the Town as a leader in recreation that focuses on positive health outcomes – the “new” focus of recreational programs for progressive communities.

Marnie Kirchgessner is Recreation and Youth Coordinator for the Town of Ithaca.

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