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Annual Harvest Awards Connect Columbus Community Gardeners

Sixteen-year-old Serenity Edwards wants kids to know that getting muddy is not a bad thing. Throughout the summer, she served as a camp counselor at Sunbury Urban Farm, teaching 8-12 year old campers to get their hands dirty, the best way to forage for berries, and how to prepare tasty lunches harvested straight from the garden. The Conservatory was proud to recognize Serenity as the winner of the Paul B. Redman Youth Leadership Award at our Growing to Green Harvest Awards ceremony on September 7, 2022, awarding her a trophy and $250 to further her education. Read on to learn more about Serenity and meet some of the award-winning gardens and gardeners who help Columbus thrive!

Guests enjoyed dinner, socializing and music from Urban Strings Youth Orchestra during the awards ceremony

“The Harvest Award Ceremony is your moment to shine,” said Conservatory horticulturist and Growing to Green Coordinator Sean McKay to a room of hard-working community gardeners gathered for the September 7 ceremony in the Wells Barn. McKay, himself a former Harvest Award winner for his work with the Garden District prior to joining the Conservatory team, shared that the ceremony felt like a “full circle moment” for him. “With all of my heart, I thank you for being here and doing all the wonderful duties everyone in this room do that mostly go unseen,” he said. 

With help from President and CEO Bruce Harkey, OSU Extension Educator Mike Hogan, Conservatory Community Outreach and Education Director Jenny Pope, Women’s Board President Patty Tumen, and others, the Conservatory presented eight awards totaling $3,500 to leaders working hard at the intersection of food and community throughout central Ohio. Highlights from the evening’s honorees included:

Bill Dawson Community Gardener of the Year Award: Richard M. Harris of Growing Hearts & Hands Community Garden

Richard Harris has a big heart for people—and a big appetite for cooking & eating delicious food! After nearly 30 years with LifeCare Alliance’s Meals-on-Wheels program and active involvement in Near East Side civic affairs, Richard knows the needs of the community. In 2009 he persuaded his faith-based care group to start the Growing Hearts & Hands Community Garden on the Near East Side.

His leadership and encouragement support all of those who contribute their gifts and talents to help the gardens to grow—whether the person is good at planting, plumbing, mowing grass, art, cooking, social media, or IT. One of his initiatives has been to engage volunteers from Alvis, a behavioral health and reentry social service agency, to maintain and upgrade the gardens’ infrastructure. Many Alvis volunteers have expressed their gratitude for being able to work in the gardens and the friendly conversation and counsel Richard provides. Richard’s love of community engagement is one of his key motivators. His philosophy has always been that gardens should be a center of social activity to encourage relationships among neighbors.

Community Garden of the Year Award: International Harvest Garden

The International Harvest Garden hosts and serves 200 gardeners from Columbus' Bantu Somali, Burmese Chin, and Kenyan communities. These gardeners produce tens of thousands of pounds of food for their families and communities in addition to contributing to local food pantries.

Ja’far Matan, a representative for the Somali garden, shared how the International Harvest Garden has been beneficial. “My community garden helps low-income families. We grow a number of vegetables in my community garden. We started with 15 people and now have up to 65 people. I am thankful for the water for the community garden. People that were on medicine before the community garden and working in the garden, they no longer need medicine. Everything we grow is healthy. There are 75-year old people that work in my community garden.”

Paul B. Redman Youth Leadership Award: Serenity Edwards

According to her nominators at Sunbury Urban Farm, “Serenity helped lead the kids in garden activities and cooking lessons to make some of the most delicious meals we’ve ever tasted at the farm.” Because of Serenity’s love of cooking, which she’s now pursuing at Columbus Downtown High School through their culinary program, she was Sunbury Urban Farms’ first choice camp counselor to assist with the Farm Chef program, a week-long camp where campers ages 8-12 learn how to prepare amazing lunches, using ingredients they harvest straight from the garden.

Some of Serenity’s favorite moments of her 12 weeks of employment include gathering herbs to make tea, learning to recognize the different herbs by sight and taste, and noticing different insects and trying to figure out why different bugs prefer different plants. Because of her time at camp, she feels even closer to nature, and so do the kids who had Serenity as their camp counselor. Sunbury Farms looks forward to seeing Serenity’s talents grow and are already considering ways to create more opportunities for her to lead garden cooking activities with campers next year.

Other 2022 Harvest Awards included: 

2022 Growing to Green Harvest Award winners

Thank you to the Conservatory Women’s Board’s Growing to Green Awards Planning Committee, including co-chairs Doris Ing and Jenny Schmitz, as well as the Growing to Green Chair, Christine Farquhar. Special thanks to program supporters Giant Eagle, Greenscapes Landscape Company, Hinson Family Trust, Osteopathic Heritage Foundations, Boyd Bowden Family, Scotts Miracle-Gro Company and Franklin County Board of Commissioners for making the distribution of these awards possible!

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