Plan for first community garden gains momemtum
December 16, 2010

The enthusiasm for the concept of community gardens is shown by Erik Wright who has set in motion plans for the development of a garden in the Zone 2 area of Joplin.

It was in July 2010 when Erik Wright of Joplin, a student at Missouri Southern State University, announced that "great things are happening." Since that time he has led a group of volunteers interested in establishing one of many community gardens in the area. The germ of the idea that was introduced on facebook at the beginning of the year now has about 150 supporters.

The Joplin Area Community Gardening committee was formed as a subcommittee of the Jasper and Newton Counties Community Health Collaborative consisting of area hospitals and health facilities, health departments, the United Way Agency and the Southwest Missouri Community Alliance. Their primary goal is to establish gardens in lower income areas but their mission includes promoting healthier lifestyles, increasing education and developing neighborhood involvement.

Jackson Gardens, located on two adjoining properties that border the northwest side of Jackson Avenue and Junge Boulevard will be part of the Zone 2 Improvement Project initiated by the city of Joplin. The property where once three houses stood is owned by the city. The city plans to retain ownership and lease it to the Southwest Community Alliance for the purpose of creating 25 garden beds. Negotiations are in progress with city attorney Brian Head and include the question of who assumes insurance liability in spite of any hold harmless agreements users may have to sign.

Construction of the first garden has a retail price tag of $12,000, according to Wright. Currently, he said that there was $6700 in an Alliance fund bank account, thanks mostly to a $4,000 contribution from the Daybreak Rotary Club of Joplin. The city of Joplin has agreed to budget $2500 for the project.

What Wright and other organizers are hoping for are contributions from area businesses of materials or financial assistance with the cost of providing, for instance, cinder blocks that would be stacked three blocks high and rebar that would hold it in place, soil and an irrigation source.

At a meeting held on December 9 discussion concerned the possibility of soil contamination, especially of the level of lead content. It was suggested that the free soil testing services of Jasper County be utilized and that the EPA be a co-sponsor with them for educational purposes. Wright considered "the proper way to do things in a Super Fund area" of primary importance.

Growing vegetables requires six hours of sun, according to the American Community Gardening Association, the link provided on the Joplin Area Community Gardening's new facebook page. After visiting the Jackson site, Ashley Micklethwaite noticed the presence of a catalpa tree near the sidewalk as the only obstruction to sunlight. It was noted that permission would have to be requested from the city of Joplin to cut it down. It also was determined that the old railroad bed was not a hindrance due to its location off the back of the property.

What wasn't specifically addressed includes organization of volunteers to construct the beds, assignment of plots, upkeep (especially the nasty task of weeding) and the possibility of vandalism and how to deal with it.

The group's next meeting is scheduled for January 13, 2011. It will take place at 6:30 p.m. at the Alliance office: Suite 102, 2914 East 32nd St., Joplin. New ideas, especially for fund raising, are welcome.

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