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Free porch gardens help Springfield residents access fresh produce

A woman walks across a greenhouse filled with plant starters for SOUP's Porch Garden Project.
The Springfield Ohio Urban Plantfolk
The Springfield Ohio Urban Plantfolk
Assorted plants ready to plant for the Porch Garden Project.

Free container gardens are helping more Springfield residents access fresh vegetables and herbs right from their porch.

Every year for the past five years, Springfield Ohio Urban Plantfolk, known as SOUP, have been giving away free container gardens to Springfield-area residents. The group's most recent giveaway was June 8.

The container gardens are pre-planted and fertilized by members of SOUP. The Springfield Foundation provided around $3,800 for the project.

Run entirely by volunteers and coordinators in the community, SOUP evolved from a small group of women who have a passion for gardening.

Now, the organization is sharing that love with community members who want to learn more at an entry level.

SOUP's coordinator Sherry Chen said the organization started the Porch Garden Project in response to the lack of healthy food options in the South Springfield area.

"Within a week of when COVID started, South Springfield lost its only full-service grocery store," she said. "Which was the Kroger on South Limestone [Street] and at that point in time it felt like a double crisis. I mean South Springfield was already a food desert because it only had one full-service grocery store and to lose that was just a real tragedy."

The original project was incredibly popular according to Chen, prompting SOUP to continue to offer access to starter gardens each year. In addition to bringing food right to the community, the porch gardens also offer residents a chance to garden even if they don’t have a yard.

“One thing that was really cool that we discovered that we did not expect was that this ends up being a way for people with disabilities to garden, for people to learn to garden," Chen said. "It's kind of a small, successful thing that you can do.”

To receive a Porch Garden, Springfield residents only had to pre-register with proof of residency and chose five herb or vegetable plants.

SOUP serves between 80 and 100 families through the program according to Chen. She said they also typically have leftover plants which they give away after the event.

"When we're done, we have a lot of extra plants left over because we have to plant more than we need because we don't know what people are going to register for," she said.

SOUP also tends to local gardens including locations at Melrose Acres and the Perrin Woods School Garden. Utilizing goods grown in these gardens, organizers also maintain neighborhood farm stands.

For more information about the organization, visit the Springfield Ohio Urban Plantfolk Facebook page.

Shay Frank was born and raised in Dayton, Ohio. Before working at WYSO, Shay worked as the Arts Writer for the Blade Newspaper in Toledo, Ohio. In addition to working at the paper, she worked as a freelancer for WYSO for three years and served as the vice president of the Toledo News Guild. Now located back in the Dayton area, Shay is thrilled to be working with the team at WYSO and reporting for her hometown community.