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Growing Local: Community perspectives

Editor’s note:

Over the past eight months, Urbana city officials, including the mayor and the city’s community development department, have worked with residents in the Lierman Neighborhood to help secure land and water for a community garden on the corners of Lierman and Washington streets. We asked resident Robin Arbiter to talk more about the garden and its goals and challenges.


By Robin Arbiter

Participant, Lierman Neighborhood Action Committee

Our neighborhood is one in which there are many health, wellness and safety issues.

In seeking solutions to hunger, nuisance crimes, lack of convenient resources, transportation difficulties, underemployment and other issues, we adopted several goals that would address multiple challenges at a time.


These goals were developed through three years of conversation with renters, homeowners, businesspeople and other stakeholders, who live, work, or visit friends in the neighborhood.

We are building a garden because we believe it will offer access to fresh vegetables at an affordable price and in a convenient location for people interested in growing food for themselves or their neighbors.

It will also add a gathering place with a healthy purpose. The neighborhood needs, right in its heart, affordable activities, public spaces that encourage healthy living and a community center that will allow us to show and develop our strengths and skills.

We think a garden will begin to change the character of the neighborhood, simply by allowing people to work and socialize publicly throughout the day, and by being a place where neighbors with certain skills and experience can teach them to others.

When we started saying that we needed to build a garden, we also started saying we need an activity center and a park with recreational features.

We need an activity center so the people can teach, learn, mentor and heal close to home.

We need activity space that invites people of all ages to meet and socialize.  

When we started listing all that it would take to create a healthy, happy neighborhood that residents could be proud to live in, we realized that we could probably build the garden first and fastest.

We said in November of 2011 we could bring forth a garden in six months. 

We're at the eighth month now, and expect to be finished building at the nine month mark.  

And then, come spring, an entirely new resource will exist, thanks to many volunteers and professionals in and out of the neighborhood.

So we were perhaps a bit optimistic in our original planning. But, at this point, we're sticking to all of our goals.

Our next steps are the ones that will determine our long-term success.

We continue to seek talented people who want to play a role in all aspects of the garden's development and ongoing life.

Currently, we are welcoming volunteers to help us disassemble pallets in preparation for a big Service Day project August 25.

We're working every weekend to take pallets apart and prepare them for re-use.

On August 25, we hope residents will join us and our friends at ESS Clean in a one-day blitz at the corner of Washington and Lierman, where we hope to assemble and place eighteen raised garden beds.

We think we are creating one of the most highly accessible community gardens in the area with beds at varying heights for people with varying needs.

We are seeking people to oversee the operation of the garden, we are looking for future gardeners, and we are looking for people who can help prepare  the garden for gardeners in spring and put it to bed for winter.

We'll probably also need some people handy with tools to make small repairs from time to time.

But, really, we're looking for more volunteers who want to own a part of positive change. This is the neighborhood's garden. How we care for it, share it among ourselves, and extend it to others is going to define it.

¨ Copyright 2011 CU-CitizenAccess.