My turn

Plant a Community Garden and there "grows" the neighborhood

2013-06-14T00:00:00Z Plant a Community Garden and there "grows" the neighborhoodBy Dave Ryan Times Columnist
June 14, 2013 12:00 am  • 

A recent article in The Times dealt with the high number of old, abandoned homes that exist in Lake County, and the efforts of local mayors to eliminate these structures.

If you are familiar with the “broken window” theory, i.e., a broken window that is not repaired encourages more of the same, it basically tells residents and passersby that the neighbors don’t care. Eventually, homes become further damaged, windows are boarded up, and graffiti and vandalism begin to appear.

As these homes are eventually razed, and hundreds of empty lots begin to appear in our communities, we have not a problem, but rather an excellent opportunity to make lemonade out of lemons, i.e., plant gardens.

Community Gardens are excellent means of cleaning up abandoned vacant lots and turning them into productive space. They provide fresh produce (or flowers and plants) and at the same time they improve the appearance of the neighborhood.

Residents experience a sense of community, while at the same time creating a sustainable solution to a neighborhood problem that previously might have led to a deterioration of the area.

Community Gardens can be grown collectively, with everyone in the neighborhood working together, or they can be managed by a single gardener or family. The bottom line is that a Community Garden can turn a once-abandoned piece of property into a productive plot of land, producing vegetables and flowers that can be shared with family and neighbors.

Lake County is blessed with a large number of Master Gardeners who, if called upon, would gladly lend a hand to those willing and able to start Community Gardens. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has a website, “People’s Garden”, which offers useful hints on how to start a network of community gardens in your community.

U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack began the People's Garden Initiative - named in honor of President Abraham Lincoln's description of the USDA as the "People's Department" - in 2009 as an effort to challenge employees to create gardens at USDA facilities.

It has since grown into a collaborative effort of more than 700 local and national organizations all working together to establish community and school gardens across the country. The simple act of planting a garden can help unite neighborhoods in a common effort and inspire locally-led solutions to challenges facing the U.S. - from hunger to the environment.

There is an old Chinese proverb, "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime."

So what are you waiting for? It is still spring in Indiana, and your local garden shops are bursting with plants and vegetables ready to be planted. Take a look around your neighborhood and see if a Community Garden site is available. If so, head to and click on “The People’s Garden” for tips on how to be the first in your neighborhood to start turning lemons into lemonade.

Dave Ryan is the executive director of the Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce. The opinions expressed are his own. He can be reached at or (219) 931-1000.

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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