By Joyce M. Miles
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — Plans for a community garden on Washburn Street are up for city review over the next few weeks.
Imagine Community Gardens Inc., an East Amherst-based not-for-profit enterprise, is proposing a community garden at 221, 225 and 227 Washburn St., three undeveloped lots south of the Washburn/Elmwood Avenue intersection.
ICG is buying up the properties with the intention of seeing them transformed to an organic garden this year. Flowers, shrubbery and some dwarf fruit trees would be planted along the perimeter. Inside, 15 4-by-12-foot raised beds would be available for cultivation by families in the immediate area.
Once the foundation is in place, the garden would be managed by The Chapel, ICG founder Robert Zima's church. Ten or so members of The Chapel at Lockport, and a local Master Gardener, would team up with the 15 families for the length of the growing season to encourage vegetable production.
IGC would arrange community workshops that run the gamut of gardening issues, from pest control and fertilization to how to prepare and serve fresh vegetables.
Imagine Community Gardens is Zima's vision for how suburban churches and their smaller inner-city counterparts can work together to revitalize neighborhoods and lift up people.
Community gardens are taking root in urban centers across the United States, as a means to fill holes in battered neighborhoods both literally and figuratively, according to Zima. Urban gardening breathes new life into vacant lots, reintroduces fresh produce in places that have become "food deserts" and on multiple levels encourages healthier living.
"Community gardens revitalize neighborhoods; they restore community spirit and neighborhood unity," Zima said. "Research shows that wherever they are, crime goes down, education goes up, physical activity goes up ... . It's a very good program for young people."
If it's approved by the City of Lockport, the Washburn Street garden will be IGC's "pilot" or test model for establishing church-led community gardens in Western New York cities, Zima said. He envisions IGC seeding five community gardens next year, and 10 gardens in 2015.
The gist is that IGC will, through donations, supply and set up the garden infrastructure — raised bed frames, fencing, drip irrigation systems, et cetera, as well as plants, seeds, soil and fertilizer — and then turn it all over to churches that commit to keep up the gardens and program. IGC will work with all denominations, Zima said.
For the Washburn Street community garden, IGC has lined up donations of organic soil from C.J. Krantz Topsoil and plants from Thompson Bros. greenhouses in Clarence. The company is buying pre-fabricated raised beds made from recycled materials and UV-resistant so that they're long lasting, Zima said. Families accepted into the program will be free to grow whatever vegetables they choose, but they'll be encouraged to choose one of three suggested "companion" garden schemes for natural protection against bugs and disease.
Raised beds would be awarded to families on an application basis, Zima said. If more than 15 families go after a Washburn bed — as Chapel members believe they will — those who don't get picked would be offered the "first fruits" of the garden this year, in addition to a guaranteed bed next year.
Families that receive a bed will be expected to donate at least 10 percent of their produce to a local soup kitchen or other community charity, Zima said. The remainder is theirs to keep and eat or, if they're game, put up for sale at the city farmers market.
"This isn't meant to be a business, it's to have fun. Growing things is fun," Zima said. "We're designing these gardens almost like a park; (the Washburn garden) is going to be beautiful. It's going to be a place the neighborhood is proud of."
IGC Inc. needs approvals from the zoning and planning boards, and a special use permit from the Common Council, before the Washburn garden is a go. The company wants to buy a portion of 221 Washburn, a parking lot, from Washburn Street Meat Market owner Don Kaufman and have it combined with 225 and 227 Washburn; that requires subdivision approval from the boards. The Council will be asked to approve a special use permit allowing IGC's use of residential-zoned property for agricultural purposes.
The zoning board is meeting on IGC's variance requests Feb. 26.