There was a time when most homes were built with a front porch, a space that practically screamed to passerby and neighbor alike, “Here we are! Right out in full view! C’mon over and we’ll get to know each other.”
In this increasingly plugged-in, online, and tuned-out world of ours, the idea of a front porch seems to have gone the way of rotary dial phones and VHS.
The rise of community gardens may seem to be primarily about digging in the dirt in anticipation of alternatives to store-bought tomatoes that taste like Styrofoam, but Mary Green knows there’s more.
“A community garden is more than being just about food,” says Dundee Garden board president Mary Green. Just as with other social, philanthropic, religious, or special interest organizations, Green says, “A community garden fills a void. A community garden is as much about community. It’s about old people mixing with young people, and renters mixing with homeowners, and people of all economic means coming together to get to know people that they wouldn’t otherwise ever know.”
The Dundee Community Garden is an example of one of the more established of communal efforts, and the volunteers who sow the seeds of fertile success there had a bumper crop of accomplishments last year.
The group that was established in 2009 bought the property at 49th and Underwood Avenue after a major funding drive bolstered in part by support from the Sherwood Foundation and Kiewit Foundation. Water hydrants were installed. A permanent shed with a cement floor was added. Plantings of six fruit trees followed. New tools were acquired. Solar panels on the shed are planned for this season to power their new electric mower.
The group also held a series of educational workshops at the nearby AV Sorensen Community Center. The neighborhood flocked to their ice cream social and watermelon feed. And the garden was a stop for bicyclists on the Tour de Garden.
But the work of the 44 members who dig in Dundee has ramifications that go far beyond their own kitchen tables.
The garden donated 680 lbs. of fresh produce to the residents of the Omaha Housing Authority’s Underwood Tower Apartments located right across the street. And 100 lbs. of sweet potatoes were given to refugee families served by the Yates Community Center. A special “Neighbor Garden” was carved out of the space with the idea that any visitor could help themself to a handful of produce.
Jean Imray, a former member and owner of the Dundee Gallery located six doors down from the site, plans to check out the Neighbor Garden.
“It was great when I had my own plot,” Imray says, “but now I can still enjoy the produce through the Neighbor Garden on my walk home. A little basil. Some tomatoes. Cook up a little pasta, and that’s a great dinner.”
Family gardening, Green says, is also a learning opportunity for children.
“There’s a lot of satisfaction in growing your own, healthy food,” Green says. “But it’s just as exciting to see all the kids learning about gardening. A lot of parents tell me that their kids now eat things they wouldn’t have touched before because of the experience of growing food themselves.”
The urban vibe in the heart of Dundee also makes the Dundee Garden one of the city’s most visible showcases for sustainability.
“One of the things about our garden,” Greens says, “is that it is a very public space on a fairly busy street that also has a lot of pedestrian traffic. People wave. They ask questions. They often stop just to chat. We get to know more and more people that way.”
Just like it was in a bygone era when the front porch was the focus of so much community connecting.