Sunday, July 21, 2013

Growing a Community

4th Street Farms

Before moving from Chicago, I was witness to several community gardens popping up on abandoned city lots, but since moving back to Ohio I’ve wondered where, if at all, these lovely green spaces existed. My curiosities were soon satisfied when I discovered 4th Street Farms; a community garden set in an area of Columbus that in the not too distant past was known for anything other than a neighborhood that provided fresh, nutritious food. Through hard work and a group of dedicated people aspiring for change within their community, this garden was created on a quiet space somewhat hidden from the bustling streets of Weinland Park. Besides growing delicious food, this small plot of hope is helping foster a healthy future for the residents that surround it.

I met up with Evelyn Van Til, a resident of the Weinland Park community and volunteer at 4th Street Farms, and our conversation began with how the farm came to be and what it means to the people of Weinland Park. Evelyn has been involved in the Weinland Park revitalization since 1999 when she was working at The Ohio State University College of the Arts. She has participated in a variety of service learning projects and initiatives such as litter clean ups and murals. She explained to me how she decided to move to the community of Weinland Park and along with her neighbors envisioned a neighborhood plan to refurbish homes, provide safe and healthy activities, and locally sourced nutritious food. Together this dedicated group collaborated with business and community organizations (Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission, Wagenbrenner Companies, Local Matters, and the Weinland Park Civic Association) and received a HUD Community Challenge Grant to aid in building a sustainable local food system in their community. The community garden officially broke ground in 2011 and began with the mission of engaging the community and providing access to healthful food to the residents of this area.

At 4th Street Farms, they focus on growing mainly herbs and fruit. They want to produce crops that are very aromatic, have recognizable flavors, and do not need an abundance of maintenance. We walked around the garden space and Evelyn pointed out the numerous edible plants they are growing this year including currants, gooseberries, blueberries, apricots, plums, blackberries, and several types of raspberries. Their herbs range from dill to fennel and mint varieties including spearmint, apple mint and curly mint. They want the community to eat healthier, unprocessed food and realize they are more apt to try something (especially children) if a volunteer can relate it to something they already know. Dill tastes like pickles and mint tastes like gum, and soon the food doesn’t seem so ambiguous. This community garden is proud to say they only use natural methods, no pesticides or herbicides are sprayed. They have also incorporated a series of underground tubes that connect each row to rain water collection barrels, making watering the garden simple, educational, and environmentally friendly.

The overarching goal at 4th Street Farms is Eat, Educate, Empower, Employ. Evelyn described how it is important to share knowledge, encourage residents to grown their own food, and educate them as to what is nutritious for their bodies. At this point, employing members of the community is an aspiration. They certainly have interest, but unfortunately lack the necessary funding. If residents approach a volunteer about employment opportunities they help by referring them to partnership organizations that can aid in work service programs, specific skill training and even obtaining a GED. Like Evelyn, the volunteers behind 4th Street Farms want to make this neighborhood one of choice, not a last resort. They envision mixed income, mixed housing, and revitalization versus gentrification. Evelyn believes in her community and the Weinland Park neighborhood. Her favorite part of helping develop the 4th Street Farms is meeting all of her neighbors. She said that prior to the garden, she didn’t know the people of the community as well as she does now. It has become a positive reason to connect people and is inspiring change in an optimistic way. As we looked over the space that the community has grown, Evelyn noted, “here are beautiful delicious things, and we can have them too”.

The 4th Street Farms is possible through the continued support of various sponsors. Because it is a community garden, the food grown there is free to the residents of Weinland Park. With the abundance of fruit and herbs being grown, the community members have considered selling items to local restaurants and farmers markets in order to raise further funds. In the interim, if you would like to support 4th Street Farms by volunteering or donating please contact them at


The 4th Street Farms mint (pictured left) traveled 0 miles to Columbus. The mint (pictured right) is distributed by a company 190 miles from Columbus, but unfortunately I am not sure of its exact origin.

Adding mint to your favorite recipe can help aid in digestion by stimulating digestive enzymes. It can prevent nausea, headaches and is a potential remedy for those with asthma as it is known to clear up congestion. Mint is a very easy to grow perennial herb that is definitely worth adding to your garden. Because it is invasive, I suggest putting it in a pot versus directly into the ground or it will take over!


The Weinland Park Food District Vision
Weinland Park Collaborative
Weinland Park Community Civic Association
Health Benefits of Mint

Shrimp Ceviche with Mint & Mango

Traditionally ceviche is prepared using fresh raw seafood that “cooks” while marinating in citrus juices. For this recipe, I poached the shrimp in boiling water prior to marinating. The use of raw versus poached shrimp in ceviche preparation can be a topic of contentious debate and a decision that I will leave to the individual reader.

Click on the recipe cards to print your copy:


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