Think of it as an oasis in a food desert.

That’s how Ben Orcutt characterizes the community gardening project that launched Saturday at the Anderson Impact Center.

There isn’t a grocery store within three miles around the center on Nichol Avenue, he said. But there is land. And that created an opportunity for people to grow fresh produce — either for their own personal use at home, or for donation to local food pantries.

“Community gardens are becoming pretty common in the U.S. these days,” said Orcutt, the owner of Buckskin Bikes nearby on 11th Street, and the nonprofit Shadeland Bicycle Collective.

“We really want this to be an opportunity where first-time gardeners and those who have been gardening for 40 years can come and work together,” he added.

Orcutt conceived the idea in February as a partnership with This Hood of Ours — he’s the local operations director for the Detroit-based community group — and Madison Health Partners.

The basic idea is to rent small plots of land, his are 4 feet by 10 feet, to people interested in growing fruits and vegetables.

The cost is $25 per growing season, and despite limited publicity, 18 of 20 plots are already rented, suggesting there is demand for this sort of urban farming,

At the same time, Josh Kirkley, an organic farmer with ASPIRE Indiana’s Harvestland Farm on Indiana 32, is helping out with a much larger plot, growing kale, broccoli, onions and radishes.

Produce from that 100-foot by 30-foot garden, will be made available to small plot renters, sold at the Anderson Farmers Market, which is getting underway, and donated to food pantries.

“This is creating a food resource for the west side of Anderson,” Kirkley said. “We really want to use this as a model for what can be accomplished.”

Sarah New, her husband, Tony, and three children decided to try their hands at community gardening after seeing a pamphlet about the project in the bike shop.

Sarah New said she’s not an experienced gardener, but had been thinking about planting some herbs in pots at home.

After reading up on the project, she decided “this is exactly what we can do, and it’s something that can get us all out of the house.”

Renters can check on their urban gardens whenever they want; Orcutt said on the first Saturday of every month during the growing season, he and other organizers, like Kirkley, will be at the Impact Center, 630 Nichol Ave., to assist anyone who needs help.

Find Stu Hirsch on Facebook and @StuHirsch on Twitter, or call 640-4861.

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