Vacant lot becomes feeding ground: Franklin Street seeks volunteers to help with community garden

Construction+crews+continue+to+work+on+the+Teaching+Theatre%2C+now+dubbed+to+open+in+October+or+November.+

Construction crews continue to work on the Teaching Theatre, now dubbed to open in October or November.

Rachel Christian

A west side garden, created by the Franklin Street Events Association, offers a volunteer opportunity for students and campus groups looking for a new way to spend their Saturdays.

The garden is improving the area’s green space and giving back to local employees and members of the community.

Madeline O’Daniel, a senior marketing major at USI, first heard about the garden through a friend’s Facebook event. She liked gardening and wanted to try something new on her Saturday off.

“When I went,” O’Daniel said, “I didn’t know it would be so much fun. It’s something good for the community that doesn’t feel like community service.”

O’Daniel volunteered during the garden’s first work day in late April.

The garden, located in an empty lot across the street from Pierre Funeral Home, is divided into community and business sponsored beds. The business sponsored beds pay for some of the materials needed to improve the garden, and the produce cultivated at the end of the season will be donated to that company’s employees.

“It’s a way for businesses to give back to their employees,” said Karen Conaway, special projects manager at Lamasco Bar and Grill.

Food grown in the community beds will serve a similar purpose. Those in the area who want fresh produce, but may be unable to afford it, are encouraged to swing by the garden.

For the volunteers who help in the garden, the project is about more than who gets the food. It’s also about teaching people in Evansville how to grow and harvest their own food while working to improve a space that last year was nothing more than a vacant lot.

“It has been awesome to watch this place transform over the past few months,” O’Daniel said. “It’s really turned into something the city can be proud of.”

The lot was purchased last May by Franklin Street during a tax auction. Since April, volunteers have spent several official “work days” and many unofficial ones helping tend the land, weed, plant and build.

Although there are no more empty beds, there is always a need for volunteers.

O’Daniel said volunteering to help in the garden would be an ideal project for a sorority or other group on campus.

“You meet so many different kinds of people,” she said. “It’s a good thing to get involved in.”

If people are interested in volunteering, they can find the group’s page on Facebook at Franklin Street Community Garden. The volunteers come to the garden for different reasons, but many of them said they’re glad groups around Evansville have taken the initiative to improve the area.

“There are cities all across the United States that are setting up their own urban gardens,” said Derick Hooley, a regular volunteer and a chef at Perfectly Fresh. “I’m glad Evansville can be a part of that.”

As the garden continues to develop, those involved with the project hope it will expand some day, with locations on the east side or by the river. There aren’t any current plans for expansion, but O’Daniel said it should only be a matter of time before other people get inspired by the West Franklin Street garden.

“Evansville has a lot of good potential,” she said. “And this garden really makes you want to be a part of that.”