Westlake dedicates new community garden

Westlake community gardener Marsha McEntee lists the vegetables she’s growing in her plot as fellow gardener Skip Gianfagna looks on. Photo by Tara Wendell

The City of Westlake and St. John Medical Center have teamed up to develop a community garden on the medical center campus. The garden allows citizens to use a 12-foot by 4-foot plot to grow their own food and/or donate their harvest to those who don’t normally have access to fresh fruits and vegetables.

A blessing and ribbon cutting to officially open the community garden took place on Wednesday, July 2.

“Community gardens bring people closer to nature, help children understand where their food comes from, encourages self-reliance, conserves resources and reduces family food budgets,” says Westlake Mayor Dennis Clough. 

Community gardens have health benefits, too. “They provide access to healthy and nutritious food, promote physical activity and improve social well-being by strengthening social connections,” says William Young, President and CEO of St. John Medical Center.

In fact, new research out of the University of Utah finds people who take part in a community garden are less likely to be overweight or obese when compared to their non-gardening neighbors.

The idea of the community garden was initiated in 2012 by the St. John Medical Center Mission and Values Committee, which included Joyce Able Schroth, the now-

retired director of Westlake’s Community Services Department, and supported by the hospital’s Sustainability Committee. Joyce and Sister Judy Weirick of SJMC met to discuss potential committee members, and decided to ask Mary Ann Brock from the Herb Guild and Regina McCarthy from the Westlake Garden Club to meet with them and discuss the possibility of a garden and its evolution. All agreed it was a great idea. Following discussion with the City of Westlake, St. John Medical Center offered the property directly south of the Seidman Cancer Center on its campus for a community garden.

In January of 2013, Joyce, due to her many responsibilities, asked Madeline Crandall, an experienced gardener, to take over as chair of the committee. “The discussion to start a community garden has been going on for years, but the opportunity presented by St. John Medical Center and Sister Judy helped to move the project to the forefront,” says Crandall, who is the city's youth coordinator.

There were many individuals who helped to get the project off the ground. Nicole Wright from The Ohio State University Extension in Wooster joined the team and had the future garden site’s soil tested. Michael Duncan, director of SJMC facilities and engineering, prepped the area for gardening. Husband-and-wife team Jerry and Jack Nolte, both Master Gardeners, offered advice and expertise. Dan Norris of Good Nature donated organic products. Ann Gedeon of Rain Barrels N’ MORE donated rain barrels.

Totally organic compost was added and tilled into the site, and four Westlake High students spread donated wood chips. The Westlake Service Department constructed individual beds out of virgin wood railroad ties donated by the city, and a fence was erected to protect the gardens from grazing deer.

The community garden is starting out with 13 active plot owners, all Westlake residents, who responded to newspaper articles about the garden. Owners pay $25 a year for their individual plot, with the understanding that the garden is for personal use and that excess produce will be made available to those families who utilize the Westlake Community Services Food Bank.

With a mission “to be a source of joy and recreation to others, build community, provide education, and grow healthy organic foods to nourish the body and soul,” it is intended that the community garden will provide assistance directly to people who don’t normally get access to fresh fruits and vegetables.

“We hope that the community garden benefits all involved. If there’s excess produce, we ask that owners take it to the Food Pantry at the Westlake Service Building or St. John Medical Center,” says Sister Judy. Community gardens provide access to nutritionally rich foods that may otherwise be unavailable to low-income families and individuals.

The community garden will consider expanding the number of plots available next year, based on the experience of this year’s garden.

Sister Judy Weirick contributed to this article.

Gary Weiland

Free-lance writer and public relations consultant.

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Volume 6, Issue 14, Posted 10:59 AM, 07.08.2014