It isn't easy being green - but it's worth it
By Michelle Blackley Glynn
I used to be a serial plant murderer.
There wasn't a sun-filled and appropriately humidified apartment from New York City to Buffalo that wasn't a crime scene. Ferns, herbs and even a cactus met their fate at my hands. But with some creativity - including a wood pallet that made an excellent container for flowers on a terrace - and a successful small urban garden, my black thumb eventually turned into a green one.
After keeping plants alive for a trio of summers, and being exposed to the economic plight in downtown Niagara Falls, I wanted to take my new talent and self-confidence in the dirt to a new level, while helping others and having fun at the same time.
I soon learned inspiration isn't enough to create a community garden - it truly takes a community to make it happen (including partners like Greenprint Niagara).
Greenprint Niagara (part of Niagara University's Levesque Institute) addresses the abundance of vacant lots in the City of Niagara Falls using a variety of creative re-use strategies, including community gardens. Through an application process, any civic-minded individual could also start a community garden.
Vegetables, herbs, flowers and even grapevines can be found in community gardens throughout Niagara Falls. Volunteers and community members agree having a community garden in a neighborhood can combat deterioration and increase harmony.
Tom Lowe, director of ReNU Niagara, Niagara University's community outreach arm, said there are now five community gardens in Niagara Falls thanks to the assistance of Greenprint Niagara.
A great example of how a community garden can beautify blocks, grow healthy food and strengthen neighborhood spirit is the "LaSalle Vineyard and Community Garden" at 7100 Buffalo Ave.
This is the second year for the community garden called "Wonder Garden." The first was consumed with cleanup and filling raised beds with dirt. With a team of seven, we hope to actually be planting this year - and thanks to Grassroots Gardens of Buffalo, a delivery of herbs, vegetables and flowers are on their way to the Cataract City.
Melissa M. Fratello, executive director of Grassroots Gardens of Buffalo, said the group assists community-led efforts to revitalize Buffalo and beyond, and enhances the quality of life through the creation of community gardens.
"We began collaborating with Greenprint Niagara two years ago and our conversations led us to some shared programming," she said. "We are working with the Greenprint garden network to provide material resources (plants, soil, lumber, mulch) and last year we held joint gardening workshops."
Donna Armstrong, Ph.D., of SUNY Albany, surveyed 20 community garden programs in upstate New York and found the most commonly expressed reasons for participating in gardens were access to fresh foods, to enjoy nature and for health benefits. From the same study, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that, during World War II, the nation's health, as well as personal well-being, was dependent on the consumption of fresh vegetables. Research on community gardening suggests a variety of additional benefits - for both individuals and for communities. One study reported community gardeners have greater consumption of fresh vegetables compared with non-gardeners, and lower consumption of sweet foods and drinks.
In addition to local resources, there are other organizations that can help gardeners. "Wonder Garden" is also a member of the American Community Gardening Association, a binational, nonprofit membership organization that supports community gardening.
Michelle Blackley Glynn is the owner/chief creative officer at Full Plate Publicity and adjunct instructor at Niagara University. She is also the host of "Pearls, Plates & Planes" on LCTV. Find Michelle on Twitter at shellblackley.