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This summer, dozens of children and their families learned how to grow their own food. They tried – and liked – new fruits and vegetables. They learned about different cultures and their use of different foods. They learned about butterflies, bees, sustainability, and proper stewardship of the land that serves them. They took their bounty to a local food bank, learning compassion along the way.

“We’re getting kids and families together, learning about nature and the importance of growing your own food.” says Chloe Drew, who runs the youth program. “That food tastes better. And we affect the environment in a good way.”

A few little seeds sprouted into all that.

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The Children’s Youth Garden Club is one of the many programs being run by the Indiana Community Garden. In just 5 years, the garden has grown to include 24 private plots, 12 community plots of various sizes, a garden pavilion and children’s schoolhouse, plus community areas with berries, native plants, herbs, and apple trees.

Kay Snyder, a Professor Emeritus of Sociology at IUP, is one of the garden’s co-coordinators. “We really see ourselves as an education resource. And not just for little kids, but for everyone in the community.”

The garden in Mack Park has become a gathering place, where people cross social, economic, cultural, and generational boundaries to share a love of plants, nature, and home-grown food.

Through its many collaborations with other organizations in the area, the garden has grown into an important community resource, with an impact that continues to spread.

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Some examples:

  • The garden is part of the Indiana County Stormwater Education Partnership, helping raise awareness of ways to cope with excess rain water. An IUP geologist is preparing to install a computerized rain gauge at the garden that will stream rainfall data 24/7, allowing researchers to study local rainfall at the same time that garden visitors are viewing the data on site.
  • The Indiana Community Garden shares its harvest — and recipes — with a local food bank, which otherwise has no access to fresh produce.
  • Students of all ages, from kindergarten to university level, are involved in service learning at the garden, hands-on learning that helps grow the garden. Community service projects also provide opportunities for meaningful work and interaction with local community members.
  • The garden is a partner in the Seedling Project, which provides seeds, seedlings, and other needed materials to interested food bank consumers who want to grow fresh food at home.
  • It’s a proving ground for sustainable practices. The garden uses rain barrels to collect and recycle rain water, for example, and builds healthy soil by creating compost from local decomposed animal manure, the park’s leaves, and garden plant waste.
  • Workshops given at the garden by Penn State Extension Master Gardeners connect local gardeners to the top experts in their field.
  • Events throughout the year draw families from all over the county.
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Education is at the heart of all of it. “We’re a working garden,” says Kay. “It’s not that everything looks perfect. What’s important is that we’re trying. People from all backgrounds are getting together, and they’re learning.”

While the Community Garden has been growing for a few years, collaborating with the CFA on the Indiana Community Garden Fund has opened up new opportunities for financial support. The nonprofit status that comes with its Community Foundation funds means streamlined access to grants and other resources, including an IUP Service Learning Work Study position to lend a much-needed hand to the all-volunteer staff.

With a passion for gardening and their community, the Indiana Community Garden is planting seeds of health, hope, and unity, which is bearing fruit beyond imagination.

Learn all about the Community Garden at its website, or keep up with the Garden’s latest activities on Facebook.

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