Residents at Dayton Lane Gardens don’t have to leave their complex to find fresh produce anymore.
Thanks to a partnership between nonprofit Hamilton Urban Garden Systems (HUGS) and Butler Metro Housing Authority (BMHA), who runs the low-income apartment complex at 122 N. Sixth St., a long-empty greenhouse at the complex is now harvesting fresh, organically grown lettuce, peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers and spinach among other produce.
HUGS executive director Alfred Hall connected with BMHA executive director Phyllis Hitte last year to create an outdoor garden for the residents, and when he was looking to create a community garden in the nearby North End neighborhood, community members brought up the apartment’s greenhouse in the Dayton Lane Historic District.
“I used to come by this place every day and say, ‘gee, I wonder why it’s not being used,’ ” Hall said. HUGS and BMHA assembled about $2,000 to supply the 16-foot by 30-foot area with planting boxes, lighting and a watering system that can help grow enough produce to feed the 45 efficiency apartments year-round. After that initial investment, about $200 a year would buy enough seed and nutrients to keep the greenhouse producing.
HUGS will initially cultivate the garden and split the produce grown in the space with Dayton Lane Gardens, to be sold at Ryan’s Tavern and the upcoming Jackson Market and Deli in downtown Hamilton, but Hall said as more residents get involved in growing and maintaining the greenhouse garden, he envisions HUGS stepping away from the garden to a point where when residents want a salad, “this door is open, and they pull out lettuce…plant seeds back in the pot where they took the lettuce, and they pop back upstairs and make a salad,” he said.
Hitte said many low-income residents don’t have access to fresh produce like the pots of vibrant green lettuce nearly ready to be picked in the greenhouse because they don’t have the budget for it. Dayton Lane Gardens’ residents pay 30 percent of their monthly income toward their rent for an efficiency apartment, and the complex is always full.
And, the price of produce “just skyrockets in the winter,” Hall said. “If you don’t have the money, do you go buy a $1.25 double cheeseburger at McDonald’s, which has calories, or do you buy a $5 salad?”
Hitte said she was “blown away” by all of the food produced in such a small space, and happy that the way HUGS used the space enables the elderly and handicapped to garden too, as produce pots, vines, and boxes are raised off the ground closer to reach from a wheelchair or for people who have trouble bending down.
As the Dayton Lane Gardens residents begin to tend to their new found produce, the North End may see a community garden by next year.
“One of our goals for the new year is to find out which parts of the North End have neighbors willing to help out with one, and then we’ll get with Alfred to make it happen,” said Beth Bachmann, Sense of Place organizer for the North End.
Among many efforts, HUGS has previously helped to create a community garden in the East End neighborhood, one on the rooftop of the George McDulin Memorial Parking Garage in downtown Hamilton, and ran a mobile market last summer that brought produce to several city organizations. Hall said that anyone who is interested in volunteering with HUGS in the Dayton Lane Gardens greenhouse, or is interested in developing their own community garden can visit their Facebook page.
“I find it (creating neighborhood gardens) builds as much community as anything I know,” he said.