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The Journal Gazette

  • Photos by Rachel Von | The Journal Gazette Growing Minds plans to renovate the Firehouse, 2518 Winter St., in order to build a raised bed garden, which they hope will help provide fresh and healthy food for students’ families and residents in the area.

  • Beth Hodges and Carlos Brooks work with Growing Minds, a tutoring program for disadvantaged and special-needs children. The program also plans to renovate Firehouse No. 9 to work with youth in the area.

Wednesday, December 02, 2015 12:02 pm

Planting seeds of hope

Rosa Salter Rodriguez The Journal Gazette

Back in the day, being a member of a garden club carried a certain cachet. Members were the type of folks who liked to host garden parties and sponsor shows where ribbons and bragging rights were awarded for the best roses, peonies or flower arrangements.

Such clubs still exist, of course. But lately in Fort Wayne, a new variety of gardening group is springing up, one where members garden to serve a greater good.

"It’s all about the cause," says Ricky Kemery, horticulture educator with the Allen County office of the Purdue Extension Service. "With the younger people, especially, that’s what gets them out." 

Here’s a rundown on some of the new groups.

Feeding minds

Growing Minds, a Fort Wayne tutoring program for disadvantaged and special-needs children, has been using a garden outside its headquarters at Spiece Fitness Center as a motivational and teaching tool.

But now the organization has bigger plans.

In February, Growing Minds was approved by the city’s office of Housing and Neighborhood Services to develop a garden and programming focusing on fresh and healthful food at old Firehouse No. 9, 2518 Winter St.

It’s in the Renaissance Pointe neighborhood on the city’s southeast side, an area officials consider a "food desert" because of few nearby options to buy fresh produce.

Beth Hodges, 39, a former Fort Wayne Community Schools teacher and assistant principal, and her partner, Carlos Brooks, 35, aim to change that. They’re going to install raised beds on the nearly three-quarters of an acre surrounding the firehouse. 

Kids from the tutoring program and neighborhood residents will be involved in the growing, Hodges says. Plans are to develop a commercial kitchen inside the now boarded-up firehouse for classes in cooking and food storage. Once a month, there will be neighborhood dinners made with produce grown on-site.

The garden also will supply a Community Supported Agriculture program, in which residents can subscribe to receive produce for as little as $10 a month, even if paid in food stamps or other assistance, she says. And students at least 16 years old who learn food prep in the program will have the opportunity to do culinary internships at Joseph Decuis in Roanoke.

The program needs volunteers to help build the raised beds and gardeners to share their knowledge and time, Hodges says.

"We’re also looking for teachers and retired teachers and people who have social service or psychology degrees or experience to mentor families," she says.

Volunteers can call 969-6387. A bed-building day will take place in early April. The project is funded for three years with federal community development block grant money and is proposed to be self-sustaining after that.

"We feel this breaks down barriers. That’s what a community center and a community garden can do," Hodges says. 

Fruit of labors

A large, established community garden with raised beds and a hoop house is thriving on the grounds of St. Henry Catholic Church, 3029 E. Paulding Road. Now, the newly formed Three Rivers Fruit Growers Club plans to add an orchard and other edible fruit-species to the mix.

Scott Krieg of Fort Wayne, an apple-growing hobbyist from Woodburn, says he hopes to share knowledge from 20 years of growing at Crescent Farms Orchard – that’s his 41/2-acre yard – with young people and others in the community.

"Orcharding is a slow process," Krieg acknowledges. But the club is starting with some 3-year-old trees, so at least some produce will be ready soon enough, he says.

Plans are to grow apples, cherries and plums, as well as some combination of melons, strawberries, bush berries, grapes and rhubarb, Krieg says.

The club meets at St. Henry’s parish center at 6 p.m. the second Thursday of each month, beginning April 9. There will be minimal dues for supplies, but the  parish has donated meeting space, Kreig says. The first work day is April 11.  The organization has a page on Facebook, and Krieg can be reached at 615-2863.

"Us old guys, I think we have a mandate – and it’s kind of like a higher calling, if you ask me – to show people how to grow food," Krieg says.

Therapy for veterans

Greenleaf Veteran Gardens plans to reclaim raised beds behind the office of The Reclamation Project at 2614 S. Calhoun St. to help veterans grow a new outlook on life.

Hollie Chaille, who has worked in several Fort Wayne garden initiatives, is spearheading the new effort.

Veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress or other emotional or physical circumstances are among those the program wants to reach, she says, adding vets with any type of discharge from the military can join.

Twenty raised beds left from a Reclamation Project community garden initiative will be the first to be cultivated, although a garden is also planned for Liberty Landing, 2833 S. Calhoun St., a 40-bed residential facility for vets at risk for homelessness. Vets who live there are among the first enrolled in the program, but others in the community are encouraged to participate, Chaille says.

Chaille, who has a master’s degree in educational psychology, recently completed a course in horticulture therapy at Chicago Botanic Garden.

"It’s truly an organic process where (vets) get out in the garden, and healing begins with having their own space to work in and control," she explains. "There’s research that shows there’s increased self-worth when you can grow something and take it from seeds to tomatoes."

Vets also will sell produce at a farmers market tentatively planned for Sunday afternoons at Deer Park Irish Pub, 1530 Leesburg Road. Greenleaf also needs volunteer gardeners and programming coordinators, as well as donations from businesses and individuals. 

Contact her at or The Fresh Food Initiatives on Facebook. A kickoff will be 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. May 16 at Slataper Street Farm, 2305 Slataper St.

Growing and philanthropy

Longtime South Side Farmers Market vendor Linda Parker of Fort Wayne is starting a garden club for people who don’t want to be part of a traditional garden club but still want to learn and give back.

Parker, 70, says the new club is informal and has no dues. But there’s one rule – at each meeting, members are asked to bring a donation to the cause of the month, such as a food bank or a homeless shelter.

Members are also encouraged to volunteer their gardening skills to serve in other programs, Parker says. The club, so far unnamed, meets at 6:30 p.m. on the third Wednesday of the month at the Community Center, 233 W. Main St. The next meeting is Wednesday.