Repeated vandalism has Hamilton urban garden facing ‘tough decisions’

Someone climbed over a fence and broke into the Hamilton Urban Gardens System recently and destroyed potted flowers that were going to be planted in four Hamilton park. SUBMITTED PHOTO
Someone climbed over a fence and broke into the Hamilton Urban Gardens System recently and destroyed potted flowers that were going to be planted in four Hamilton park. SUBMITTED PHOTO

“Don’t bite the hand that feeds you”

What a shame it would be if the senseless actions of a few vandals caused an urban garden to move or close, vacating those residents living in a several-block food desert.

That’s what Alfred Hall, founder of Hamilton Urban Garden Systems (HUGS), and his board face after they discovered last week the non-profit garden organization was vandalized for the third time in three months. Since December, vandals have caused more than $4,000 in damages to the 30-by-72-foot Hoop House and gardening supplies, plants and vegetables stored inside during the winter.

MORE ABOUT HUGS: This Hamilton group does urban gardening to help those in need. Here’s how it’s growing.

“Tough decisions,” board member Michelle Merritt said of the future of the organization that was founded in 2012 and moved its operation to South Front Street in 2015.

“But we know that we are very much needed in this community.”

Beer and cigarettes are readily available in Hamilton’s Riverview neighborhood. Fruits and vegetables, not so much.

Last year, HUGS donated 2,000 pounds of produce to local food banks, and the seven outdoor gardens maintained by local residents cultivated 1,300 pounds of food that benefited the local community. With the efforts of HUGS volunteers, that’s 3,300 pounds of food grown on the 2.3 acres that otherwise wouldn’t have been available.

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In the Riverview neighborhood, Merritt said, 72.6 percent of residents are non-white and 15 percent are unemployed. There are 33.8 percent of households with incomes less than $15,000 per year, and 768 of households rent their homes. This is the type of neighborhood that should be known for volunteerism, not vandalism.

When Hall, 68, and several Butler County high school volunteers arrived last week at the Hoop House on South Front Street, just down the street from Hamilton police headquarters, he was “devastated” that vandals had struck again.

“All of the money, all the goodwill was laying on the ground for no good reason,” Hall said. “I was devastated. Really, more disappointed than anything else.”

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Hall said HUGS moved from Commerce Park, and until December there were no “major issues” at the garden. He figured those who stole tomatoes during the summer must have been hungry.

But he was upset Tuesday when he discovered someone had climbed a fence that surrounds the garden, broken into the Hoop House and shattered 300 pots that were filled with soil and flower seeds. Later this year, the flowers were going to be planted in four Hamilton parks, Hall said. Now, the parks will be less colorful.

Those pots were filled and more than 5,000 pounds of debris were removed at the garden site by volunteers during three days of community service around Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Hall said.

Hall called the destruction that ruined hours of volunteer efforts “a little kick in the butt.”

HUGS filed one incident report in December with the Hamilton Police Department after $3,000 worth of damages were done to the Hoop House. Without any surveillance cameras and the lack of witnesses coming forward from the neighborhood, Hall wonders if the culprits will be caught.

“This just doesn’t make any sense,” Merritt said. “Why would anyone be so destructive? I have no words for it.”

Then she found the perfect word: “Heartbreaking.”