LAPORTE | Fresh vegetables could be growing right in downtown LaPorte next summer.
A community garden is planned for what's now a former city parking lot at Jackson Street and Jefferson Avenue.
Hopes for the garden include being a source of produce for local food pantries and to help spruce up what many consider a run-down area of the city.
The garden is the brainchild of Chris Meadows, 38, of Michigan City, who got the idea from a TV show about community gardens in large cities like Chicago, and began landing support from groups such as the United Way of LaPorte County, IU Health LaPorte Hospital and the city, which donated the land.
"I thought, 'Why not have one in LaPorte?'" Meadows said.
He said what will be planted next spring is not known, but a lot of input will be collected from the community in open forums over the coming weeks to decide.
The food will be donated to pantries like the one at the LaPorte Salvation Army and sold at farmer's markets and restaurants for money to reinvest into the garden.
Meadows said another goal is to build a sense of pride in the community by allowing citizens to participate in weeding and other maintenance and educate children with trips to the gardens by Big Brothers and Big Sisters and other mentoring groups.
"Hopefully, it will have a beneficial effect for everybody in the area," Meadows said.
Support has come quickly with plans already being made to expand with another half-acre site that's in the process of being donated in 2015, he said.
"I've been very supportive of doing something like that," said Tiffany Bley, the city's downtown director. "It's a great way of engaging the community, even the low-income population, to get involved."
Bley said community gardens have been known also to improve neighborhoods in ways such as reducing crime and vandalism.
"It's a great learning opportunity, too," said Bley.
Meadows said there are also plans to have classes in areas such as gardening and canning.