In the Thomas Park/Avondale neighborhood, where getting fresh produce can be a challenging and time-consuming venture, Maring-Hunt Library Community Garden has given residents access to fresh produce since 2003. Yet, neighbors knew some things were missing. There was a water spigot and a shed to store tools and materials, but it lacked shade and needed to be a more inviting space.
Today, residents enjoy many improvements: the Gateway to Growing Pavilion, raised beds accessible to people with disabilities, garden paths and plantings and a story circle on the library’s grounds, thanks to Pam Harwood, a Ball State University professor of architecture, her College of Architecture and Planning (CAP) students and neighborhood volunteers.
“Design can make a difference,” Harwood said.
Lindsey Helms, MA ’12, a neighborhood resident who has volunteered to help manage the garden since 2010, approached Harwood after seeing how she helped Muncie Children’s Museum and Muncie Head Start.
“She saw potential right away and reached out to other community and Ball State partners to make this happen,” Helms said in an email. “We are so appreciative of the energy and enthusiasm the project brought to the neighborhood. We needed it!”
After meeting with Helms, Harwood created an immersive learning project, Maring-Hunt Community Garden Pavilion. Funding came from Academic Excellence Grant, CAP Makes Muncie Makes Community Design Build, a Provost’s Immersive Learning Grant, and a Building Better Neighborhoods grant.
After a Feb. 8 community input session attended by more than 100 people, Harwood and her Architectural Design 6 students developed a plan.
“(They) took the ideas and excitement from the community and ran with it,” Harwood said.
Students start imagining
The students set up shop at the Madjax makerspace in downtown Muncie to facilitate construction. Once design components were complete, they were relocated to the garden site for installation. Every student in the course had a critical role, from public relations and marketing to construction managers, digital drawing experts, plant and building materials experts, tool manager and even an accountant/budget expert.
Together, they analyzed the site and created numerous schematics. In early March, students revealed the plans to the community, and the build began.
“The garden just needed a design element to make it a more usable space,” said Derek Tulowitzky, a graduate student in historic preservation.
During several community build days, neighbors helped with tasks such as ripping up sod, making gravel paths and digging holes for the pavilion structure and plantings. Despite the rainy spring, organizers were impressed by the participation and the excitement of neighborhood volunteers.
The community garden will roll out in phases during the next year. The first phase, completed in late April, includes a gardener’s pavilion, accessible raised beds and the story circle. The garden paths will connect to the former Wilson Middle School track and reuse that space.
Work has continued this summer, with the addition of a potter’s bench with sink, roofing and paver flooring for the Gateway to Growing Pavilion. Students also created a nature play space for kids. It includes a sand and water play area with a special water channel that harvests rainwater and has plumbing for water when there is no rain. A final nature play day celebrated the garden accomplishments. More than 75 kids and parents attended.
“Already, I am seeing a lot of activity in the garden,” Harwood said. “It is rewarding.”
What’s still coming
Future elements will include a market pavilion with a community outdoor kitchen and built-in fireplace or grill, a demonstration area, farmers market for fresh produce and a food truck area. Also in the plan is a children’s garden and educational pavilion for South View Elementary and Maring-Hunt Library programming. It will include a water feature and a bio swale, which will use design and vegetation to slow and filter storm water, especially runoff from large paved areas such as parking lots and roads.
The project also received part of a Lowe’s Grant for Neighborhood Improvement as a partner with Greater Muncie Habitat for Humanity working with the 8twelve Coalition, a Muncie revitalization group. Their portion of the $250,000 grant is $50,000 to complete the market pavilion and the outdoor kitchen demonstration area.
The garden will let community members tend their own plots for an annual cost projected to be around $20, which will cover upkeep, gardening equipment and water provided by Muncie Public Libraries. Nonprofit organizations will maintain a section with the produce given to the community or local food banks. South View and Maring-Hunt Library will use a third area for programming.
Harwood has secured funding for next year, and students will continue to make the plans a reality. She hopes this improved space will attract more participation from residents of Wilson School Apartments (most over the age of 55) to join elementary-age students and neighborhood families.
“I see it as a way to improve the health and well-being of the residents [of the apartments], encourage activity and provide a multigenerational experience.”