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Here We Grow helps cultivate connections


Here We Grow has helped participants gain new skills.

At first, CJ Dotson thought gardening wasn’t for him.

He remembered doing yard work for his grandma when he was a kid — and not really enjoying it. So when he was invited to attend the Here We Grow gardening program, he almost turned down the opportunity.

But ultimately he decided to give it a try and was surprised to discover how much he enjoyed it.

”I started loving it and decided I wanted to go every week,” he said. “It’s actually fun, I learned a lot of cool stuff.”

At the weekly sessions at the greenhouse, CJ, who attends SPARK, learned about the value of earthworms. He watched pumpkins grow, learned how to package and label microgreens and watered lots of plants.

”When I was depressed and sad, going to the greenhouse helped,” he said. “For some reason, planting is the thing that helps.”

Now CJ enjoys helping his uncle pull weeds and plant flowers.

For Program Director Mary Barry, that’s exactly the goal of Here We Grow — to help participants gain new skills and find a healthy outlet they enjoy.

“My goal is to teach them,” Mary said. “I want them to feel welcome, feel great, feel like they are a part of something and to learn.”

Here We Grow is one of several programs the non-profit Together We Grow Gardens operates out of its greenhouse behind Heritage Middle School in Newark.

Founded in Newark in 2014, Together We Grow opened the greenhouse in 2017 with the goal of introducing more programming for students, veterans and adults with disabilities.

The Licking County Board of Developmental Disabilities awarded Together We Grow a grant to help make the greenhouse and its programming more accessible.

Once the greenhouse opened, Mary, and Together We Grow founder Pam Roberts, began marketing the Here We Grow Program to different provider agencies in Licking County.

They realized a few things in the first year, Mary said.

Participants were struggling to pay the $3 activity fee, so Together We Grow decided to assume all the programs costs to make it accessible to all.

They also learned that participants were ready to take on more advanced activities that allowed for more skill building.

Since then, participants from each provider agency work to maintain a garden plot. But they’ve also learned how to grow and sell microgreens, planned and executed a Mother’s Day plant sale and helped plant gardens based on themes, such as the ingredients for tacos.

To branch out from the greenhouse, Here We Grow also organized summer sessions at the community gardens on Sixth Street. There, participants have gotten to know other gardeners as well as Together We Grow volunteers.

”It’s been great to mix it up and get them involved,” Mary said.

Looking to the future, Mary said she’s hoping to expand Here We Grow’s programming to include more vocational opportunities, such as learning to grow microgreens or get certified in greenhouse operations. But she also wants to make sure participants continue to have fun.

Brittany Ferrin, who visits the greenhouse with PALS, said she enjoys watering plants and creating art projects inspired by the gardens.

Allison Smathers, who also comes from PALS, said she finds the program to be fun and relaxing. She enjoys digging in the soil, planting and learning about earthworms.

”We have a great time,” she said.

Danielle Snodgrass, who attends the greenhouse with LICCO, a division of the FUSE Network, said she enjoys planting flowers. She is working on growing a geranium from a seed that she’s hoping to give to her mother.

Angie Hughes, who comes to the greenhouse from SPARK, said the program has really helped boost her confidence.

”It makes me feel good, it made me feel like I can do this,” she said. “If anyone wants to learn about gardening, they should come out to the greenhouse because I’ve learned a lot.”

For more information about Together We Grow or Here We Grow, visit togetherwegrowgardens.org.

Photos provided by Together We Grow Gardens.

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