August 2, 2010 9:39 AM
Vegetables can make a lot of things better.
I stopped by Russett Road the other day to visit the "Clean & Fresh" kids who are spending the summer fixing up the neighborhood and working on a new vegetable garden. The program is putting area kids, ages 14 and 15, to work picking up around the neighborhood and learning how to grow food. The program has a triple benefit. It's keeping the kids positively engaged, it's improving the look of the neighborhood and it's teaching them something about the importance of good nutrition.
The project is a collaborative effort of Public Health Madison and Dane County, Edgewood College, the Madison Area Permaculture Guild, Youth Services, and the Meadowood Neighborhood Center.
Part of the funding for it comes from the Emerging Neighborhoods Fund, a program I launched a few years ago to provide small, startup grants to react quickly to needs in neighborhoods. It is also funded by private donations, local businesses, Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Edgewood College, Dane County Environmental Council and the Community Action Coalition.
Many of these kinds of small efforts are starting to pay dividends all over the city, but especially on the southwest side. In the last three years, calls for police service involving the kinds of things that usually stem from disconnected youth have dropped dramatically. Over the last three years we've invested in a new and now expanded neighborhood center, youth programs, enhanced building inspection and more. We've invested about a million dollars in city resources, but the important thing is that the city is trying to work smarter, listening to the neighborhood first and then investing in things that make sense.
Come fall, I'll visit the kids again and help them harvest the vegetables they've planted and raised with their own hands. Of course, they don't need my help, but we all need theirs. By engaging in these kinds of positive, community-building activities, these kids are making a better neighborhood for themselves, their friends and family and, whether they know it or not, they're making my job a lot easier.
Mayor Dave visits front yard gardens on Russett Road