Community gardens help Cincinnati neighborhood grow

Around 2015, Gary Dangel, a 60-year-old graphic designer, settled on what he would do after early retirement. He'd buy two vacant lots near where he lived, lots plagued by rampant littering and illegal activity, and commit himself to rejuvenating the bleak, deserted spots into an oasis.

Six years later, Walnut Hills is looking up. New restaurants and businesses line East McMillan Street. Old buildings are being renovated and new buildings constructed. Arts organizations, like the Cincinnati Ballet and ArtWorks, call Walnut Hills their new home.

But perhaps less noticeable in the neighborhood’s comeback are the eight community gardens scattered around it.

'Everybody has to eat.':Lincoln Heights doesn't have a grocery store with produce. So residents are growing their own food.

Five of these gardens are managed or co-managed by Dangel, who also helps out at the other three gardens when needed. The gardens do what community gardens are designed to do: beautify the immediate area, create volunteer opportunities and produce fresh food for an area that needs it.

But what has amazed Dangel the most is how the gardens have nurtured community.

“We're going from being a diverse community,” Dangel said proudly, “to being a truly integrated community that interacts with one another in a natural way.”

Gary Dangel stands inside of Taft Garden, one of eight gardens in Walnut Hills. He is the food access coordinator for the Walnut Hills Redevelopment Foundation.

'A beauty to it'

When Dangel bought his first lots in 2015 – one across from Frederick Douglass Elementary School and the other on Melrose Avenue – he was no community gardening expert. But he knew he wanted the gardens to be fertile in every way possible.

“I hadn't been a community activist or community person. I was a corporate, creative person before that. So this was all virgin territory to me,” Dangel said. “I didn't know what would happen.”

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