GREENFORD, Ohio — What began as an initiative to create a “community of faith,” has grown into a mission that creatively involves non-profits, chruches, individuals and families in order to help the community grow its way out of hunger and poverty.
Goodness Grows is the brainchild of Pastor Steve Fortenberry and the congregation of Common Ground Presbyterian Church. It’s a nonprofit, based in the Common Ground’s community center, which sits on the 28 acre site of the former Mellinger’s Nursery in North Lima, Ohio. The project is encouraging a new generation to participate in faith-based community engagement.
Goodness Grows is an umbrella term for the many smaller projects that Common Grounds takes part in. Each project puts agricultural education and community building in the forefront.
One project, called the Growing Together program, enrolls special needs students and adults. The focus is to take those with disabilities and give them a therapeutic working environment. According to Goodness Grows, those enrolled in the project have demonstrated improvements in their speech patterns and their dexterity as well as expanded capabilities in a hands-on learning environment.
Goodness Grows also hosts a Specialty Crop Growers Apprentice Program in cooperation with the Ohio Cooperative Extension Service. This program is approved by the Ohio Apprenticeship Council. During the program, participants are given agricultural and sustainability training giving them the technical skills to manage an urban farm or community garden. Trainees learn the importance of crop diversity, how to maintain farming and gardening tools as well as how to manage pests. Many trainees in the program are either unemployed or underemployed. The training includes 2000 hours of on-the-job and in-the-field learning and 144 hours of classroom instruction.
During the training, participants are connected with local non-profits, schools and churches in hopes of creating working relationships with institutions that could help support the trainee as they begin their own farm or garden.
Growing a community
“We’d like to be a conduit,” said Greg Bowman, the executive director of Goodness Grows. Bowman was hired into the program in 2011 after serving the Rodal Institute, a nonprofit organic farming and research organization in Kutztown, Pa., for 15 years. “We want to connect local farmers to the thousands of eaters in the Youngstown area,” he added.
As part of Bowman’s initiative, Goodness Grows has partnered with he Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center, the Lake-to-River food Co-op and Boardman local
schools to include fresh and local foods in school lunches. The Lake-to-River Co-op is a regional food cooperative that works to establish relationships between local growers and local markets.
Though Goodness Grows is a faith-based organization, Bowman wants to make it known that participants don’t have to be religious. Goodness Grows will help train anybody who is willing to learn, no matter their religious or non-religious affiliations.
“It’s about practicing good stewardship,” said Fortenberry “We kept asking ourselves, ‘how can we help in the wisest and most strategic way?'” The answer was urban farming, “We really wanted to show people that there’s creative ways to use land that’s close by.”
Continue reading about Youngstown’s urban farming community.