The Charles Madison Nabrit Memorial Garden (CMNMG) has grown to 3,850 square foot, but it’s still organic, still bio-diverse, still struggling to be self-sustaining and still located in a formerly fallow field behind The Church of Christ of the Apostolic Faith (CCAF), 1200 Brentnell Avenue, Columbus, Ohio, 43219. CCAF is home to a 105+ year-old, predominantly black congregation.
Begun in 2014, CMNMG fights urban food deserts by increasing access to affordable, whole, live food. The USDA Economic Research Service data highlights zip code 43219 as “low income, low access”, meaning households are at least 1 mile from a supermarket, 33% are low income and 13.2% are without access to a car. The distance to a supermarket in this zip code is 4.3 miles, more than twice the distance to a fast food option.
The surviving sons and nephews of Charles Madison Nabrit (CMadison) built the garden with 38 raised beds crafted from 700 ft of untreated lumber, lined with newspapers, filled with 20 tons of organic soil and watered by an above ground, drip irrigation system they engineered and installed with a solar powered timer to maximize water conservation. They then added 4′ gravel walkways and solar path lights between the beds, 2 large composters, a worm composter, rain barrels, perimeter fencing, a blackboard, comfy bench and large outdoor rug for children’s classes.
VEGGIES ( Artichokes, Asparagus, Beets, Bok Choy, Broccoli, Brussel Sprouts, Buttercrunch Lettuce, Carrots, Cauliflower, Collard Greens, Corn, Cucumbers, Garlic, Kale, Kohlrabi, Leeks, Mustard Greens, Onions, Red Cabbage, Romaine Lettuce, Shallots, Spinach, Sugar Snap Peas, Sweet Potatoes, Tomatoes (4 cultivars), Turnips, Yukon Gold Potatoes and Zucchini.);
HERBS (Basil, Borage, Chives, Cilantro, Dill, Lavender, Lemon Balm, Mint, Oregano, Parsley, Rosemary, Sage, Tarragon and Thyme);
FRUIT (Blackberries, Blueberries, Cantaloupe, Strawberries and Watermelon); and
FLOWERS (Daffodils, Gardenia, Hibiscus, Hydrangea, Impatiens, Marigolds, Nasturtium, Peonies, Petunias, Roses, Tulips and Zinnias.
During the harvest CMNMG holds a weekly, onsite Farmer’s Market and Bake Sale where all the organic produce is sold for $1.00 a pound! On Saturday mornings from 10:00-noon, we hold community classes for children. This season our class offerings have included “Worms are Wonderful”-Vermiculture Composting for Kids; Recycling & Organic Chemistry/DIY Series (fertilizer, pesticide & weed killer); and Water Conservation “How to Build an Olla”. We also conduct teen and adult nutritional classes, i.e., “How to Cook with Herbs instead of Salt” and “Canning, Pickling & Preserving the Harvest.”
CMNMG brings generationally and economically diverse members of community together in one tranquil and beautiful space. Our volunteers, visitors, students and customers include members of the congregation, neighbors in the community, patrons of the church’s food pantry, kids from the recreation center next door and families from Ohio Dominican University’s charter school (also next door) and people who just hear about our classes and our great prices on great produce. Our oldest volunteer is an amazing 89 year-old black man originally from Alabama who comes with his daughter. He has helped plant two 10’x5′ beds of Collard Greens and Kale and inspired us all with his incredible energy, flexibility, strength, quiet wisdom (“Do for Self”), perspective (“This reminds me of George Washington Carver”), patience and insight.
Along with our primary mission of fighting food deserts by increasing access to affordable, whole, live food, the CMNMG also works to reconnect the community to its spiritual and cultural roots of gardening and food cultivation. CCAF which generously allows Telos the use of the land, is a congregation populated primarily by African-Americans of the great migration, descendents of the original African diaspora. CMadison’s sons and nephews are 5th generation members of this congregation, a congregation with roots deeply embedded in scriptural and spiritual components of gardens and the cultural and historical components of food cultivation in America. CMNMG is a community space of peace and healing and nourishment for the soul and the spirit as well as the body. We intentionally planted an array of flowers throughout this garden because the aesthetics matters. Frequently spaces created in the midst of poverty give short shrift to the spiritual necessity of beauty in nature. CMNMG presents beauty as function and while we have a designated 100 sq. ft. Butterfly & Bee Pollinator Garden-and our “Monarch Waystation” certification and signage- the flowering plants, trees and herbs strategically placed throughout the 3,850 square feet create a fragrant and inviting space for all our visitors, including our pollinators.
The children in the community have an exciting, beautiful and welcoming space to discover and explore various aspects of the natural world-an easy introduction to STEM. Our utilization of the square foot gardening method provides even young children an opportunity to work with simple math concepts by measuring the beds to grid them and planting a specific number of seeds per square. Reading plant labels to determine whether seeds need 1/4, 1/2, 1 or 2 inches of soil is an easy access point to fractions. Adding dried, crushed egg shells to vinegar, moving Calcium Carbonate to Calcium, adding it to epsom salts as a water soluble source of Magnesium for a liquid fertilizer…or adding coffee grounds for Nitrogen to dried, crushed banana peels for Potassium and dried, crushed egg shells to create dry fertilizer…spraying the 10 Blueberry Bushes and 50 Strawberry plants with Methyl Anthrannilate (Grape Kool-Aid!) to deter birds from eating all the luscious fruit-these are all projects kids love and provide multiple and functional introductions to chemistry in the garden.
We use wooden spoons as plant labels with the common name and the Latin name of each plant printed clearly in indelible markers. This allows children to easily see the connection between the different cultivars of various plants. Making science accessible is important. CMadison’s two eldest sons, Charles and Damon, 35 year-old twins, both Princeton alums formerly homeschooled by CMadison, have lead all the children’s classes with the added benefit of increasing the kids’ opportunities to interact with adult black males outside their family yet within their community.
Telos Training, Inc. (Telos) is the fiscal agent for CMNMG. Telos, begun in 2005, focuses on the traditional work and spiritual insight of women and their impact on children, families and communities. Telos received IRS certification as a 501(c)(3) non-profit charitable organization in 2011 so each and every donation to CMNMG is fully tax deductible. I have transferred all the rights to each of my books to Telos Training, Inc. so every book purchased supports the mission either through classes, conferences, school supply give-aways or garden support….and the garden always needs something…so the doors of PayPal are always open with email [email protected]
For more inspiration about CMNMG, please view our 2014 video http://bit.ly/1A74Wr0 created by CMadison’s youngest son, Evan (Amherst College & MFA, UPENN-also homeschooled).