Earth Week 2023: The Unity Gardens open a new welcome center

ST. JOSEPH COUNTY, Ind. - It doesn’t get any better than straight from the garden. Buying and growing produce locally is a green practice, literally. The supply chain doesn't get any shorter than your back yard or neighborhood garden.

The Unity Gardens have a wide variety of fruits and vegetables for picking, and the main farm on Prast Boulevard in South Bend is growing more than just crops.

The rows are being prepped for planting, a staple sign of spring for over a decade.

"The Unity Gardens started by accident in 2008, where I did one little garden downtown, and just had an idea of growing free food that was completely open for everyone."

Founder and Executive Director Sara Stewart took that single plot and like all the fruits and vegetables, grew it to over 40 community gardens, and the main seven-acre farm on South Bend’s west side.

"We have waited so long for our grand opening celebration, you might notice that there’s a big, huge building back here, a welcome center," Stewart said. "This is the home for Unity Gardens. [F]or 14 years we’ve had a port-o-potty and a shaded shelter to run our business out. So, the new building, is a big improvement." 

"We’ve got our market space open, our commercial kitchen is ready, classroom and office spaces, we are ready for people," said Micah Neispodziany, who manages events and the welcome center. It has plenty of space to gather and grow in other ways.

"Come visit, come shop, come to classes and events to learn, and come back around and into the garden to get some food," said Neispodziany.

The gardens are open to anyone. There's threshold to pick, it's encouraged.

"Everything in the garden is planted for the community, for people to come in and find what they need for their dinner," said Katie Lane, who is in charge of the open gardens and does a lot of the volunteer coordination and planting.

"Today I’m going to plant mustard greens right next to us, and I'm going to plant kale and beets and carrots," she said. She's proud of what they offer.

But the Unity Gardens are more than just food.

"It’s a resource for everyone, what you need from it is what you take from it," said Lane. "Some people just come out here to take some food, and that’s always welcome. Some people come here to talk to someone, we’re always out here in the garden, we’re always happy to be your neighbor." 

With the new welcome center, The Unity Gardens are even more of a place to gather. And that was Sara Stewart's original idea.

"I’m a nurse, a public health nurse and our jurisdiction is wellness," Stewart said.

Nutritional, physical, mental, environmental, spiritual, it’s wholistic.

"This is nursing, Florence Nightingale would approve," she said.

There are many ways you can support the Unity Gardens. You can shop, buying goods and greens, the funds go back to the organization. You can go for events and classes or pick in the garden. Just being there makes it more welcoming for everyone.

"As people gather together in the same environmental space, we connect in new ways," said Stewart.

The grand opening of the new visitor's center is 11:00am to 3:00 pm Saturday, part of an Earth Day celebration. It’s for the whole family, young and old. And you can learn a lot about greener practices in your own garden, as well has how to get involved.

There could even be a garden in your neighborhood. You can find more information on the Unity Gardens website.

Share this article: