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Community gardens feeding the people

Student initiative growing in popularity

While masses of Ohio University students were flocking to the Palmer Fest block party last spring, seven OHIO students were growing the relationship between the university and the Athens community by cultivating the earth.

The group was planting a vegetable garden as part of an initiative to bring healthy food to Athens residents.

At the intersection of Fairview and Woodward avenues on the northwest side of Athens, the vegetable garden, called Family Fun at Fairview, is one of four gardens that together make up the Walking Harvest.

There is also a strawberry patch and an herb garden along Highland Avenue and a cucumber garden, called Stairway to Vegetable Heaven, along the flight of stairs from Forest Street to Grosvenor Street.

The Walking Harvest is the first Greater Good project of Service Living, an initiative of Good Works Inc. that partners OHIO students with members of communities of southeast Ohio to provide service. A student initiates a Greater Good project when he or she sees the need for a service in the community.

Senior Keith Ray, a linguistics major, saw the need for a healthy food source in Athens County.

"It's all over the news lately – [Athens] is one of the poorest counties in the area and people honestly just do not have readily available, healthy food sources," Ray said. "A lot of the times it's because they don't have transportation to the food. They're too busy working jobs … They can't take the time to do a garden."

That is where the Walking Harvest comes in; it provides a healthy harvest that community members can easily walk to and pick. That is how the name, Walking Harvest, was chosen.

"We wanted it to be a community-oriented activity where you could walk from garden to garden so you wouldn't have to drive all over the place," Ray said. "So that you could walk from place to place and just pick vegetables that you could actually use."

To make his vision of community gardens a reality, Ray worked with former Service Living Initiative Coordinator Heidi Bender Kauffman, City Planner Paul Logue and six other OHIO students.

Kauffman and Ray began planning the gardens last winter, but it was not until spring quarter that the Service Living group actually began planting the gardens, working Saturdays from noon to 4 p.m.

"I hope it shows the Athens community that OU students are interested in having a relationship with them and interested in being involved in the community," said Hannah Simonetti, a sophomore journalism major who will be leading the project next year.
The Service Living group is looking to expand the project next year.

"We're really looking for the areas where we plant the gardens for community members to make them their own gardens," Ray said, "so that we don't have to come back and care for them, so that we can continue to plant gardens throughout the city."

Currently, three of the gardens are bearing fruit and that can be harvested by anyone. The strawberry patch will show results in two to three years.

Food not picked by visitors is collected by the student workers to donate to local food pantries, with the idea of fighting food insecurity in the region.

Anyone who wants to get involved can contact the Service Living Coordinator Amanda Carlyle at amanda@good-works.net.