From overlooked plot to community hub: Wildwood YMCA gardens

  • Published: Sunday, April 11, 2021

WILDWOOD, Mo. – For Jodi Smedley, being a Master Gardener is about much more than gardening. Through her work with the Wildwood YMCA, Smedley has realized the impact gardening can have on everyday life and the community as a whole.

As a Master Gardener through University of Missouri Extension, Smedley could not help but notice an unused plot of land` tucked behind the Wildwood YMCA and see the potential for something more. Ten years later, a community garden now thrives in that spot.

Run by St. Louis County Master Gardeners and supported by the YMCA and more than 70 community gardeners and volunteers, the garden has 70 raised beds growing mostly fruits and vegetables and a children’s garden with eight additional plots. The community garden is a certified monarch way station, providing milkweed for butterflies migrating south in the fall.

“The volunteers are the ones who give the garden so much love,” Smedley said. “We’re starting our 11th growing season, and some of them have been here since Day One. It’s not just a garden. They’ve created a real family atmosphere.”

The garden’s mission “is to provide a natural, peaceful and welcoming setting that encourages gardeners to gather and socialize, learn and share all the benefits of organic gardening,” she said.

“We’re like family out there,” Smedley said of the community that has grown around the garden. Each gardener faces his or her own struggles, both in and out of the garden, but the community is always there to support and help one another. Master Gardener volunteers play a crucial role, lending their gardening expertise to those who are less experienced.

“They help in so many ways. They’re on my speed dial,” Smedley said.

Along with community plots, there is a berm dedicated to feeding the hungry. Each year, the Wildwood YMCA garden donates to area food pantries – more than 2,000 pounds of food in 2020 alone, including 380 pounds of sweet potatoes shared at Thanksgiving. Children who attend YMCA day camp or Child Watch programs can help around the garden as well. Smedley describes the relationship between the gardeners and children as a “multigenerational garden opportunity,” especially during the sweet potato harvest. The gardeners came out to work, with the children “uncovering the treasure” that is a sweet potato.

A grant will help build a therapy and sensory garden for those with disabilities and others who would benefit from the garden. Smedley hopes to create a “nurturing space for them to go and feel the healing impact of nature.”

Anyone in the community is welcome to a garden plot, but there is about a three-year waiting list of more 75 people. She attributes this interest to the sense of belonging and sharing that has flourished in the garden and taken root in the Wildwood community and beyond.

If you are interested in a plot at the Wildwood community garden, contact Jodi Smedley at [email protected] to learn more.

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Photo available for this release:

https://extension.missouri.edu/media/wysiwyg/Extensiondata/NewsAdmin/Photos/2021/20210412-stlmg-1.jpg
Master Gardeners work with community volunteers to prepare the gardens for plantings.

Writer: Caitlin Reitz

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