Friday, April 22, 2011
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Community gardens idea growing fast

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[April 22, 2011]  As the building and safety officer for the city of Lincoln, a portion of John Lebegue's job includes being out and about in the city, monitoring vacant lots and derelict properties.

Last summer while he was out, he came across something that spurred a thought. He saw a vacant lot that had been turned into a neighborhood garden. Neighbors were sharing the space, raising their own fresh vegetables and perhaps becoming closer friends through their common interest.

Lebegue said the thought crossed his mind then that there were vacant lots in Lincoln that could be turned into community gardens.

With that idea as the backdrop, the group called From the Ground Up set to work to turn Lebegue's idea into reality, and they have been amazed with the results thus far.

On March 10 the group, led by Rachel Smith, Kathy Vinyard and Lebegue, had a public information meeting where they formally introduced their ideas about the gardens and started collecting names of those who were willing to help in the planning and also of those who wished to take a spot in one of two gardens.

At that time the group had two garden spots available, one at the Logan County Housing Authority office at 1028 N. College and the second at 417 N. Madison St.

This week Vinyard said the response to the gardens has been tremendous and many of the spaces have already been spoken for, but there are still some available on a first-come, first-served basis.

She noted that at the North College location, the housing authority began with 15 garden plots and almost immediately had 16 would-be gardeners wanting them. Vinyard said that in answer to the demand, Steve Allen at the housing authority has said he will expand that garden area to help meet the demand.

In addition, the group has added a third garden location at 116 S. Logan St.

Vinyard said they are now looking at 30 144-square-foot plots at the housing authority, most of which will measure 12 by 12 feet, plus 10 to 12 plots on Madison and another 10 or so on South Logan.

For Lebegue, the response to the community gardens has been doubly rewarding. First, he's pleased to see the idea take off so well, but secondly, it is going to make his job easier this year and perhaps even more so in the future.

As the building and safety officer, Lebegue is always concerned about empty lots. They can quickly become overgrown with weeds and also can become a dumping spot by uncaring neighbors, leaving them cluttered with unsightly trash.

Because there will be gardens on the vacant lots on Madison and South Logan, Lebegue knows those two spaces will be looked after, and it will be two less spots he has to keep an eye on this summer.

And, his vision for the future is that next year there may be a demand for even more garden space, using even more vacant lots around town.

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On April 30 the From the Ground Up group is going to host a groundbreaking ceremony at the gardens on College Street, followed by a gardening workshop in the community room at the housing authority offices.

The groundbreaking will commence at 9 a.m., with presentations by Connie Burgett of Connie's Country Greenhouse and Master Gardener Steve Sparks following immediately thereafter.

Burgett is one of the owners of Connie's Country Greenhouse near Latham. Connie's has been in business in Logan County for over 12 years and offers a tremendous variety of outdoor plants including ornamentals and bedding vegetable plants.

Burgett will take the first 30 minutes of the workshop to discuss flower gardening.

Sparks is the founder of Sparks Soil Testing Lab in Lincoln and is a certified Master Gardener in Logan County. His portion of the workshop is expected to focus on vegetable gardening and soil amendment.

Also on hand for the morning will be a representative from Illinois American Water. Vinyard said Illinois American has been very supportive of the community gardens and has given generously to the project.

Also, free garden seeds and plants will be given out to those who have signed up for a plot.

For those who may be still thinking about taking a plot, Vinyard suggests you come for the groundbreaking and workshops. Application forms and garden guidelines will be available for those who may decide to take that step.

Vinyard added that in case of inclement weather, the workshop will still be presented. She added that From the Ground Up appreciates the support of Allen at the Logan County Housing Authority and the offer of the community room for the workshop.


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