Monday, April 4, 2011

Westside garden deters crime, creates community

As spring comes to Kansas City, residents of the Westside are looking forward to doing more work in their community garden, which is a partnership between police, the Westside CAN Center and other groups. The below story from the April edition of our Informant newsletter explains what the garden is all about. Go to Westside CAN's web site to see lots of pictures of the garden.

What once was a vacant Westside building housing vagrants now is a source of community pride, educational opportunities, vegetables and chickens.

This is the second season of the Westside Community Action Network (CAN) Center’s community garden at 20th Street and West Pennway. A previous garden spot behind the CAN Center is now a parking lot.

“The community members get to know each other, kids are learning, and we’re reducing crime and creating community,” said Officer Matt Tomasic, who came up with the idea for the garden with Officer Octavio “Chato” Villalobos and Westside CAN Director Lynda Callon. “… There is no downside to this.”

The garden features 30 plots, all of which are claimed by community members. It sits where a vacant building was torn down more than two years ago. The site owner lets Westside CAN use the land for free. Community members grow everything from garlic to carrots to spinach to pumpkin to cantaloupe. A butterfly garden attracts monarchs, and old tires painted primary colors house flowers and vine plants. Because there is no plumbing at the site, all water comes from rain barrels colorfully painted by local school children. The garden’s first beehive is due to arrive in mid-April.

“The primary purpose of the bees is to increase the harvest,” said Ezekiel Amador III, community member and beekeeper. “… Then in August, we’ll harvest their honey.”

Also on the site: chickens. Officer Tomasic said local schools hatched the eggs but then didn’t know what to do with the chicks, so the community garden took them in. Westsider Cosmé Pantoja built them a sprawling enclosure with donated materials and tends to them daily. The six hens and two roosters produce about eight eggs each day.

Amador and Marcella Morales-Gaona, another Westsider and gardener, lead and participate in workshops for residents and their children to learn more about growing plants. Gaona said they’ve had no problem with theft or vandalism both because the site is fenced and because the community takes pride in the garden.

“The beauty of it is when it’s warmer, people are here until dark,” Officer Tomasic said. “If they’re not working, they’re socializing until 9 or 10 o’clock at night.”

Amador said community partnerships – like the ones the garden enjoys with the nearby Irene Ruiz Library and KCPD – are what make the garden happen.

“People don’t even see the officers as having a police connection,” Amador said. “To them, they’re just neighborhood and community guys.”

One KCPD connection is evident at the garden right now, however: two large piles of manure produced by the horses of the Mounted Patrol Section to be used as fertilizer.

“This is the good stuff,” Gaona said. “We’ve been waiting on this.”

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