About the Renaissance Center Community Garden
In Windham, approximately 39.2% of people are considered below poverty level, over three times the Portage County average of 12%.  In 2011, the United States Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service identified the Windham area as a food desert.  Food deserts are “urban neighborhoods and rural towns without access to fresh, healthy, and affordable food.” Rather than having grocery stores in these communities, there may be no food access or limited access to healthy, affordable food options.  Over the years, the Renaissance Family Center (RFC) has stepped up to help the community with this and a variety of other needs, including education, recreation, and health services.  Each month more than 100 free meals are served and nearly 20,000 lbs of food distributed by RFC, yet the need for fresh produce is greater than ever. 

The Power of Partnership
The Renaissance Family Center houses a diverse group of community partners, including The Salvation Army, Townhall II, Coleman Pregnancy Services, Christian Women’s Job Corp, Adult Basic Literacy Education (ABLE), and the Windham Library. The Salvation Army already runs a food pantry out of the RFC that serves nearly 200 families a month.  In addition, several years ago the Windham Library installed raised garden beds and has been teaching children about growing vegetables.  These services are a great start to help improve health and wellness in Windham but are not enough. 

In 2017, RFC joined efforts with University Hospitals and Ohio State University Extension.  OSU Extension’s Master Gardener Volunteers (MGV) and extension staff in Portmapage County provide educational services to the community through public projects, presentations, and workshops.  Partnering with RFC helps volunteers meet one of the State Master Gardener Initiatives, ‘Backyard and Local Foods’, while using the Community Garden Specialization two of its members have completed.  MGV’s have already completed the design for the Renaissance Community Garden using many sustainable and permaculture practices to ensure the garden is low maintenance, bountiful, and beautiful throughout the entire year.  

Every three years, all University Hospital facilities complete a comprehensive Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA) that identifies the greatest health needs among their communities.  This allows resources to be appropriately directed toward outreach, prevention, education, and wellness opportunities for the greatest impact.  CHNA’s focus on the prevention side of health care by prioritizing health status and access issues within vulnerable communities to better address needs.  The unique health challenges of the Windham community was identified in 2016 and is one of three priority areas for University Hospitals Portage Medical Center. Poor health status is often a result of complex interactions of challenging social, economic, environmental, and behavioral factors. University Hospitals recognizes that addressing the more common “root” causes, like the availability of healthy food in Windham, can serve to improve a community’s quality of life and reduce mortality and morbidity.

By collaborating with the various entities, the Renaissance Community Garden will utilize the strengths and expertise of each organization to maximize efficiency and overall impact.   The community garden will build on many programs already running within RFC and among partner organizations to bring community members together in new and exciting ways.  Not only will the community garden greatly improve access to fresh produce, but it will also provide opportunities for gardening classes, cooking demonstrations, and horticultural therapy.  

How can you help the Community Garden?
The Community Garden has several opportunities to get involved, whether through your time or your donations.  Learn about upcoming workbees by clicking here or calling 330-296-6432.  Sponsorship packages are also available. Participating as a sponsor will provide critical funding for the creation of the community garden and subsequent educational programs while providing the opportunity to advertise your business or recognize a loved one.  Talk to one of the Community Garden partners to learn more or click here to become an arbor donor!