Walnut Hills aims for better overall community health with gardens, events

Childhood obesity, and obesity in general, is a growing problem in Walnut Hills. In order to help combat the problem, Walnut Hills Redevelopment Foundation (WHRF) partnered with numerous organizations to develop a number of community health and wellness initiatives.
When Betty Waite was brought on full-time as the organization's CFO, she wanted to organize a community garden in the neighborhood. Over the past year she's helped activate two large community gardens and has two more planned for 2015.
The two existing community gardens were designed primarily to provide food for the Open Door Pantry at the Church of the Advent and Walnut Hills Food Kitchen, and there are two community members who have personal plots.
“The main purpose is to grow things for the hungry and to build the community around this common goal,” Waite says.
The Concord Street Community Garden has room for a total of 75 raised beds — there are currently 25 raised beds in the garden, and Waite says this year they will add 25 more. Volunteers grow everything from peppers and tomatoes to herbs and a variety of greens, including kale and collards. The garden also has two beehives, and viney plants like beans and cucumbers grow up the existing barbed wire topped fence.
Volunteers are trying to upcycle whenever possible — they built a retention pond from used tires found during a neighborhood cleanup, and the seven compost bins were built from pallets. A patio was constructed from bricks gathered from neighborhood demolition sites, and this year there are plans to construct a small greenhouse from used windows.
Last year, a total of 2,000 volunteer hours were logged in the community gardens. Volunteers come from groups all over the neighborhood, including the Cincinnati Human Relations Commission, which organized a group of 10 children to take a class at the Civic Garden Center and then volunteer 16 hours a week for eight weeks in the community gardens; Elevate Walnut Hills; GO Cincinnati; and Keep Cincinnati Beautiful.
In 2015, Waite hopes to plant an urban orchard in one of the number of vacant lots in the neighborhood, which will help supply fresh fruit. She also plans to construct a children’s garden across the street from Frederick Douglass School, made possible by a $1,500 grant from the Community Leaders Institute.
Another gardening effort is coming in the form of edible landscaping in two pots in Walnut Hills’ business district. Waite says sweet potatoes, sweet peppers and rainbow Swiss chard will be planted in the pots.
“We’re going to plant the edibles and see what happens,” she says. “We also plan to plant some edible landscaping in a few of the neighborhood parks and see how that works in an urban setting.”
Walnut Hills’ other healthy initiative is Health & Wellness Wednesdays, which began at the end of January. The weekly event is funded through Interact for Health’s Thriving Communities grant.
Health & Wellness Wednesdays begin at 4:30 p.m. at the Dilllard Building (719 E. McMillan) and include free know-your-numbers health screenings, yoga classes for beginners and intermediate levels, cooking and nutrition classes, Healing Touch and chair massages, and urban gardening classes. The programs are geared for those 13 years of age and older, and each night is capped off with an unwinding session, which includes citrus-infused water and red wine for those of age.
“Studies show that one glass of red wine is good for your health,” Waite says. “We’re trying to cover all bases.”
Vitality, which teaches the event’s yoga classes, also offers yoga teacher training. Classes are normally upwards of $3,000, but through the grant classes are only $50, and yogis are expected to volunteer 100 hours in and around Walnut Hills (many volunteer at the community gardens).
“We’re really planting the seeds of yoga, and hopefully when the yogis are officially trained they’ll have classes all over Walnut Hills,” Waite says.
When the weather gets better, the Findlay Market Farmstand will be part of Health & Wellness Wednesdays, and the Go Vibrant walking routes throughout the neighborhood will yield a walking group. WHRF also plans to partner with Queen City Bike for biking groups.
Waite says they’re challenging the Walnut Hills community to do one million minutes of exercise in three months — that’s just 549 people doing 20 minutes of exercise per day.

As a neighborhood, Walnut Hills has a number of other healthy initiatives coming in the next year, so stay tuned!
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Caitlin Koenig is a Cincinnati transplant and 2012 grad of the School of Journalism at the University of Missouri. She's the department editor for Soapbox Media and currently lives in Northside with her husband, Andrew, and their three furry children. Follow Caitlin on Twitter at @caite_13.