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Four Questions, Twenty-Five Neighbors, and a Community Garden

by Margaret Rahn on January 11, 2011

Tagged as: Gifts / Hospitality / Association

Tim and Bridget Vogt noticed that they received no welcome from the neighbors when they moved into their new home in Bellevue, Kentucky. No cookies, no “Hi, new neighbor, here’s how we compost …”  One day they found themselves commenting on this memory and realized, “Hey, we’ve lived here now for eight years and we’ve never baked cookies for anyone.” So, it began.

Tim and Bridget baked cookies for two new neighbors and welcomed them with a bit of conversation. The cookies were delivered on a good plate so it would need to be returned, thus creating a chance for a second conversation. Tim enjoyed the exchanges so he started being chatty with those he saw on his street. He made friends with an older couple. The husband had suffered a leg amputation and a couple of strokes. Tim offered to shovel snow from their drive in the winter and now they share short visits and cookouts or bonfires with s’mores cookies. Out of this Tim has developed an intentional practice of being a connector.

Here is his story.

Six months ago I knew six people in my neighborhood, now I know twenty-five.  I decided to walk across my street and hang out a little with my neighbors on their porch. I worried I might invade their time but discovered that everybody wants to talk or connect. Knocking on people’s doors is pretty intimidating so I decided to first connect with those I knew. I began in my most comfortable place, with my wife, Bridget. I practiced the four “TIPS” questions:  “What do you know that you could teach to children?”  “What are your interests?”  “What are you passionate about?” and, “What skills do you have that you would like to share?” Bridget talked about gardening as she and our two boys spend a lot of play time in our back yard garden.

Then I interviewed my neighbor Christine who worked with Visionaries and Voices, a Northside neighborhood organization which arranges gallery showings of the works of artists who also have disabilities. I told her that I wanted to talk with her about Bellevue and I asked her the four TIPS questions. I found out that Christine was into the locally produced food movement and that she wanted to work with others in a community garden. I offered to connect her with Bridget.

I mentioned the idea of a community garden to a Bellevue history buff, Steve, who is on City Council. He shared that a community garden had never been done before but that there were small unused plots of land available in the neighborhood. Steve referred me to Tom, a former Bellevue mayor and member of Friends of Bellevue, a social organization which raises funds for school activities. Tom advised that he knew about three or four others who had tried to start a community garden before but hadn’t succeeded. I agreed to connect with them.

I work as the Executive Director of Starfire, a Cincinnati, Ohio, organization which offers programs that address the needs of teens and adults with disabilities. Before leaving work one day, I answered a call from Cindy who shared, “I have a son with Down’s syndrome. He’s graduating this year and I’m looking for places where he can connect with others after high school.” I asked, “Where do you live?” She answered, “Bellevue, Kentucky.”  “Hey, we’re neighbors. Let’s meet tomorrow for coffee.” When I met Cindy and her son, Mitch, I discovered he and I shared a passion for University of Kentucky basketball. I also learned that Mitch would be starting a job at the Fort Thomas Flower and Garden Center and, he was big into gardening.

Having discovered this common passion shared among these neighbors, I sent an email to everyone suggesting that they meet and consider together how to make a go of a community garden. Tom forwarded this to all his contacts as well. End result? Bridget, Christine and Mitch found a place, tested the soil, won acceptance into the Civic Garden Center’s Community Garden Training Program, and are pursuing funding from the Friends of Bellevue to support starting an ABC teaching garden at the neighborhood school; Asparagus, Broccoli and Carrots.

So, we look forward to having two beautiful Bellevue community gardens this coming Spring.  Some might call these gardens “outcomes” but this is not a project with time lines, goals and measurable outcomes. Rather, for me, this is a change in lifestyle; a lifestyle which connects neighbors and builds community.

Tim’s contact information:  Tim Vogt, Bellevue, Ky     tim@starfirecouncil.org    513-503-6243