Kentucky Voices: Community garden tour

By Jim Embry

Low-income, under-served communities are at the highest risk for obesity because they often lack supermarkets, leaving convenience stores or fast-food chains as the main source of meals.

Fruits and vegetables may also be cost-prohibitive for low-income families, but community gardens provide the opportunity to grow their own.

There are more than 40 community gardens in Lexington (about 10,000 nationally) and others are literally sprouting up weekly.

Gardening can also help recharge urban energy and teach about surface water issues and pesticides. It's a way to get children outside, working and playing together to transform empty lots as a practice of citizenship.

Lexington's 4th Annual Community Garden Tour from 5 to 8 p.m. on Thursday, July 29, will provide a look at more than 15 gardens.

Organized by Sustainable Communities Network, the tour begins and ends at The Rock Methodist Church, 1015 North Limestone.

Tour on a bus or bring a bicycle to join a two-wheel tour. The event is free either way.

Some of the sites we'll showcase are:

■ The Drug Court Community Art Garden, conceived by Fayette Family Court Judge Lucinda Masterton, who, with her out-of-the-box and into-the-garden-thinking, wanted a site where youth and adults in drug court could do community service, gain a renewed sense of responsibility and work together.

Located on Nelson Avenue, this garden gave the judge an opportunity to lay down her gavel and take up a garden trowel.

But the primary beneficiaries are the youth engaged in an opportunity to work together on a project that benefits the community, and just seeing the judge get dirty.

■ Fresh Solutions is a new collaborative of the Catholic Action Center, Sustainable Communities Network and Employment Solutions. Located on Whipple Court, these projects involve Lexington residents who were formerly homeless and adults with disabilities in a unique approach to including all of our citizens in the sustainability movement.

There is composting that takes food waste normally going to the landfill and turns it into rich soil while also producing loads of worms.

A hoop house will allow us to grow vegetables year-round and seedlings for Lexington community gardens as well as supply herbs for restaurants.

Boy Scouts are working on additional shelving and second-level growing space for winter operation.

■ Portofino's (on the bike tour) restaurateur Wayne Masterman wanted fresh herbs so he set up a basil garden in the parking lot. How local can you get? He was inspired by the Fairmount Waterfront Hotel in Vancouver, B.C., that grows herbs, flowers, apples, vegetables and bees on its roof, saving about $30,000 a year in food costs.

Other stops will include Virginia Place, Beaumont and Maxwell Presbyterian churches, Columbia Avenue, Fresh Stop, Kid's Café, London Ferrill, the University of Kentucky Gaines Center and North Lime.

The tour is meant to inspire and encourage citizens, the faith community, neighborhood associations, women's support groups and teachers to establish community gardens and reconnect with an American tradition.

During World Wars I and II, Americans supported the war effort by planting Victory Gardens and sharing the bounty with neighbors.

This grand spirit of community engagement and learning around gardening is what we need and what we witness re-emerging in the urban gardening and local foods movement.

First ladies Michelle Obama and Jane Beshear have planted edible gardens in hopes of inspiring citizens to get outside, grow a garden and eat more healthful food.

As the economy has declined, more people are struggling to meet basic needs, which is generating a renewed interest in growing our own food.

Almost every day we receive requests for support, workshops and funds to establish backyard and community gardens.

A potluck dinner follows Thursday's tour; those attending are asked to bring a dish to share.

To register, email sustainlex@gmail.com or call (859) 312-7024. It's all free but donations are accepted.

Jim Embry is director of Sustainable Communities Network.