The Ogden Dunes Community Garden offers those with a green thumb a place in the sun.
“I always wanted to start a community garden in Ogden Dunes because I remember ladies talking about the idea when I was growing up,” said Jenifer Wilson, founder and former garden manager. In 2015, she established the garden on a narrow strip near the tennis courts in Nelson Reck Park, at the corner of Ogden Road and Ogden Court.
“It had water nearby, parking, didn’t need much grading, and was full sun!” Wilson said. “Our community has a rich tradition of gardening but not everyone has a place in the sun due to the dense forest coverage.”
Jim Biancotti, one of the Community Garden’s longtime gardeners, says it gave him a great opportunity to get back into growing vegetables after a long absence.
“Living in Ogden Dunes, most of the soil out here is basically all sand. I tried when I first moved in here like 20 years ago to put a garden in, and it wasn’t that successful. Since then the trees have gotten taller so I have less sunlight.
“I got a late start in planting this year, so I might have a few green beans but that’s it so far,” he adds.
The park attracts families with young children to the playground and teens to the basketball court, but that left many adults without a reason to visit.
“We wanted all the neighbors to come out to enjoy the park as a gathering space,” Wilson says. "The Ogden Dunes Community Garden did just that. We had multiple generations within the first year participating in the garden.”
Established by the Ogden Dunes Home Association, the organic garden features 22 raised cedar beds, including one wheelchair-accessible bed, and five shared beds tended by all garden members. Individual beds are available to lease for $40 for association members and $50 for nonmembers per year.
“Individual beds are yours to garden as you please,” according to the Ogden Dunes Community Garden website — ogdendunes.in.gov/clubs-and-organizations/community-garden. Shared beds are plotted out in advance each year to maximize each plot’s output.
The garden features running water and a shed to store tools. It is enclosed by a 6-foot fence.
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In addition to giving gardeners a place to grow, the garden gives participants the opportunity to give back by donating to the Portage Township Food Pantry.
“We take whatever vegetables are available,” said Biancotti, who is in charge of the Community Garden’s donations.
“It’s green beans, tomatoes, yellow squash and zucchini, garden lettuces, radishes – it’s usually going to be vegetables that produce a lot at once. We also provide herbs such as basil and oregano and a couple of types of mint,” he said.
Fresh produce is very popular at the food pantry, according to Biancotti.
“I would say probably two-thirds of the food pantry clients take the fresh produce,” he said. “Cucumbers and squash go pretty well. When tomatoes come out just about everybody that goes by takes some of them.”
Individual gardeners also participate.
“We just ask individual gardeners to put a flag on the plants they are OK with us picking from for the donations,” Biancotti said. “That way when we’re picking for the pantry donations, we know we can pick the vegetables that are ready to eat from those plants.”
Since 2015, the garden has also acquired a lending library and a few benches, giving even non-gardeners a reason to visit the spot.
“Once the logistics were approved by the association board, I reached out to the public to see who wanted to be the inaugural gardeners,” Wilson said. “Little did they know that they would have to build it first — but they did!
“It was an amazing volunteer effort,” she adds.