'Deep Roots' -- local organizations strive to bring the community together

Dracin Williams, Black Expo Program Coordinator, stands next to the community garden on Friday at Max Rhodes Park, at 714 W. Seventh St.

The Owensboro Black Expo, the Northwest Neighborhood Alliance and the Master Gardener’s program collaborated in May to build “Deep Roots,” a community garden aimed at bringing the neighborhood together and providing education on sustainability and healthy eating habits.

Since its inception in Max Rhodes Park, at 714 W. Seventh St., Black Expo Program Coordinator Dracin Williams said the project has gone fairly well so far and partners are beginning to plan for the fall season.

“This area is … a concentrated area of poverty,” he said. “This is a traditionally black community. It’s also one of the poorest communities. It’s a food desert. We don’t have any grocery stores around here, there’s nowhere to get fresh foods, and there’s just so much need here, and I think that’s why we wanted to do this here because we recognize the need.”

The community garden, although small, allows some access to fresh vegetables and can help individuals learn gardening skills for themselves, Williams said.

“We knew the first year was going to be a learning experience just because a lot of us had never even gardened before,” he said. “We knew the first year was going to be trial and error and trying to figure out what worked, what didn’t work and what we should have been more organized on so that we could have a tool kit that is precise and easy for different neighborhood alliances and different organizations to do it in whatever public park.”

One issue the partners have struggled with throughout the process, according to Williams, is community engagement and keeping individuals involved in helping tend the garden.

While the garden launch was successful with a large and diverse turnout, he said engagement has dropped as it has progressed.

Much of the upkeep, he said, has been done by the several organizations that started the garden with help from students at the H.L. Neblett Western Academy and a few individuals from the neighborhood.

“We didn’t want it to be just us starting it and then us also being the only ones doing it, but a lot of the time, it was us,” he said. “It wasn’t bad, it was just our first year and we needed to learn how to keep people engaged along the way.”

Williams said there are plans for the upcoming fall season to give the garden more of a presence on social media so the community can follow along with the process.

He said there has also been discussion about partnering with local schools, churches and other organizations to possibly have different groups help tend the garden.

While the goal is to eventually have a community garden in each public park within the city of Owensboro, Williams said the group has decided to focus on the Max Rhodes garden first to hone it, get people engaged and develop a tool kit for any future community garden projects.

“We want to make this project so that we can say ‘these are the instructions, these are the roadblocks we ran into’,” he said. “This is just one of the necessary ways to get people out of their houses again and be a community with each other because that’s the only way we feel that Owensboro can start to reconnect and develop a deeper connection with each other.”

Christie Netherton, cnetherton@messenger-inquirer.com, 270-691-7360

(1) comment

Hank Linderman

This project is even deeper and more important than it already appears: as climate change advances we will need local food more than ever, and growing food in populated areas is a great way to do that. Community gardens, yes!

Building community in our fractured Nation is more important now than ever. Kudos to the volunteers who are doing this work. I have had a few long conversations with Dracin; he is thoughtful, committed, and leads by example. We need more leaders like him; leaders that want to accomplish something rather than to simply "be someone."

This is the best news story I have seen from any source for weeks. More please!

Hank Linderman

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