When Aja Hartman moved to the Meadowbrook North neighborhood about ten years ago, she was excited. There was a rumor about a pool in the neighborhood, a welcome perk in Gladstone. But as time passed, the pool never opened. Little did Hartman know, the pool that she hoped for would be home to another sort of gathering place, one that she would personally spearhead.
After some time, the city of Gladstone erected a fence around the Meadowbrook Swimming Club, a defunct private club that was no longer maintaining the pool. In disrepair, the city took the pool out and filled the lot in. While the eyesore was gone, now the land sat empty, its owner long dead and the city unwilling to develop the land. In 2015, Hartman started hatching an idea.
"I thought it would be great to put in a garden. I started asking around, and they informed me that there was a neighborhood board that I needed to talk to about it. I didn't even know that there was a board," says Hartman.
Undeterred, she continued digging, figuratively. After going to the neighborhood meetings, she found the support of her neighbors, as long as she was willing to lead the efforts. With pluck and determination, she took on the task of fundraising and directing the efforts to turn an empty lot into a growing community gathering place.
Fundraising was the first hurdle. After starting a GoFundMe page, Hartman raised around $1500 to buy supplies to build the raised garden beds, of which there are eight. There are also trellises intended for training up climbing bushes such as raspberries and blackberries. Once she had funding, Hartman tapped into the human resources that she found amongst the neighborhood, capitalizing on her friends and neighbors' strengths.
"Some of the older men in the neighborhood really like to build so they designed and built the beds. They got really excited to do it," says Hartman.
The garden opened in May of 2016 with eight garden boxes, all occupied with gardeners. A few years later, after a fundraiser at The Hide Out Bar, they put in several fruit trees in conjunction with The Giving Grove. They also applied for and received their 501(c)3. What was an inkling has turned into reality.
Hartman says that she reserves the highest boxes for older gardeners so that they don't have to bend down as far. As the years have passed, some beds have opened up as people have moved away so now Hartman is looking for new blood to come and tend the garden.
Two ladies are doing their part to keep the garden growing. Debbie Reynolds and Karlyn Miller have been gardening in their backyards for several years but this will be their first year tending a garden box. Both ladies focus on creating gardens that nurture pollinators, specifically monarch butterflies. Their boxes will be full of flowers and milkweed, which is the sole food source for monarch butterflies.
Attracting pollinators to the garden will help all the gardeners. And Hartman hopes that adding picnic tables will attract more neighbors. That's her next project--to raise enough money to add picnic tables to the lot so that people can gather to relax and enjoy the natural space.
"We want to make a place where it's not just for the gardeners but for the entire neighborhood to come together," says Hartman.
That's happening. Last fall, they held a fall block party that drew 50 people to the lot. As Hartman and I chat, a mother and daughter grab a book from the little free library and read under a tree for a few minutes. Despite the lack of tables, the neighborhood is embracing the space as a place of leisure.
In addition to picnic tables, Hartman is interested in finding more support for the ongoing work that needs to be done in the garden. She says she's actively looking for corporate sponsorship to offset their small water bill, which is currently paid for by the annual rent for the boxes. A few extra hands would also help. Currently, Hartman and her husband do most of the maintenance on the plot.
"I think the real issue is time. There's a good mix of older couples and families with kids in this neighborhood. It's tough to commit that extra time to gardening when you have a lot going on. I would love to see more people get involved though," says Hartman.
Hartman aims to add more plants to the garden, both new berry plants, as well as landscaping. In the meantime, she remains committed to nurturing the plot of land and seeing what it grows--whether that's butterflies, apples, or just friendships.
To support the Meadowbrook North Community Garden, visit Charity.gofundme.com/o/en/campaign/spring-fundraiser-2020.