Community garden ‘grows more than food’

By Katherine Klingseis, katherine.klingseis@iowastatedaily.com 

The Service Patch offers its volunteers a lot more than just gardening space. The motto of the garden is “Growing More than Food.” The Service Patch is a community garden that acts as a link between diverse groups of people living in Ames.

“The reason why we started the Service Patch is we wanted to create a place where we could get individuals who typically don’t interact with one another to do so, so they could start a diverse community of members we have here in Ames,” said Josh Kriz, coordinator of the garden for United Ames. “And, in the meantime, as we were doing that, doing a good cause and growing food, producing food that’s 100 percent donated to food pantries and homeless shelters in the community.”

Located next to the Trinity Christian Reformed Church on Ontario Street in Ames, the Service Patch is a 50-by-50 feet plot of land that includes a shed, compost bin and two rain barrels. The garden was inspired and created by AmeZone, a youth service group aided by the Volunteer Center of Story County and United Ames.

“The volunteer center takes care of … the volunteer recruitment and the managing of the volunteers,” Kriz said. “And, I kind of take care of community engagement and organizing social events, other events at the garden other than just gardening.”

Last year, the garden raised about $10,000 in grants through both local and national organizations. It also received donations from various companies in Ames.

“Lowe’s did a 10 percent discount on everything we purchased,” Kriz said. “Construction companies came out, and roofed and shingled the roof of the shed for free.”

Since its creation, the Service Patch has had 200 unique volunteers. These volunteers visited the garden 616 times for a total of 850 hours. Of the 200 volunteers, 113 were at-risk youth who either resided in the Youth and Shelter Services shelter or were through the Juvenile Court System.

“We have a close relationship with YSS — providing volunteer opportunities and engaging them to come out,” Kriz said. “We wanted to do it to give the kids more of a voice and let them see leaders in the community, and YSS sees it as an important thing to get those kids back integrated with the community.”

Kriz said the Service Patch attracted a wide range of different volunteers. He said some volunteers were affiliated with 4-H, various churches, Mainstream Living — an organization that works with people with disabilities and ISU students.

“We thought gardening was a great activity, a kind of neutral activity to get people together, and it’s something that they’re all working toward a great cause,” Kriz said. “And, in the meantime, as they’re gardening, they get to know other members and interact with people that they typically would not. ”

Last year, the Service Patch held specific service days for volunteers to visit the garden. Kriz and Laura Logsdon, community volunteer engagement coordinator for the Volunteer Center of Story County, were in charge of the day-to-day duties at the garden. This included choosing volunteer managers to supervise the volunteers.

“The two of us trained these managers to come out and lead these volunteer groups, and we oversaw their work,” Kriz said. “Hopefully this year, we will have a gardening manager that will sort of take care of the day-to-day work, and we’ll supervise that.”

This year, Kriz also plans on coordinating with other Ames organizations. For instance, the Service Patch is in talks with the Ames Progressive about doing yoga in the garden. Furthermore, the Volunteer Center of Story County and United Ames will break ground in May on a school garden at Kate Mitchell Elementary School.

“The idea behind that garden is to get students to come out and volunteer, and provide food for those kids on either free or reduced lunch … so that they will have more food security at home,” Kriz said. “[The principal at Kate Mitchell] goes, ‘I know I can give them a good meal in the morning and at lunch, but I’m really worried about what they eat at night.'”

Regardless of what the future will bring, Kriz said he hopes the Service Patch continues to bring people together in Ames community.

“Our No. 1 goal has always been to grow a safe place for people to come together and make Ames a more welcoming and inclusive community,” Kriz said. “In order for people to appreciate the diversity we have in Ames, they need to have opportunities to interact with them and get to know them regardless of why they’re diverse.”

(Posted originally on Iowastatedaily.com on April 18, 2011)

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