Don’t try calling Tatum Park a community garden, because it’s much more than that according to founder Sonia Flunder-McNair of Urban Wholistics. Her operation wears a lot of hats – community garden, public park, economic empowerment initiative, beautification effort, and a pathway to teach people about healthy living and environmentally sustainable self-reliance.
“Covid pushed us into a self-reliant lifestyle. The city can be rural as well,” Flunder-McNair said when the Toledo City Paper visited. “That creates more social cohesion. It also makes sure we are keeping each other accountable for how our neighborhoods look. We’re no longer looking for a handout but a hand up. This way is teaching people how to fish instead of giving them everything that you’ve worked for.”
One parcel at the northwestern corner of City Park and Woodland Avenue is a park open to the public year round. But further up Woodland, there are a series of garden plots, an orchard, pollination efforts, and permanent stands for selling fruit and vegetables. The produce is sold to various people and businesses around the Junction neighborhood. It has also been sold around metro Toledo including at the MLK Kitchen and ProMedica’s Market on the Green.
Urban farming, healthy living and economic empowerment is taught to neighborhood residents as young as preschool age. There are also efforts to include people with physical and intellectual disabilities to access the area and learn too.
It is a far cry from the abandoned buildings and garbage that used to stand there before Urban Wholistics acquired the property from the Lucas County Land Bank in 2019 with a $4,500 budget to develop and clean up the site.
“If you think of where the project was in 2019, and how $4,500 has been leveraged, hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of programing and investments in a disinvested neighborhood, other projects could take that energy,” Shantaé Brownlee, Senior Vice President for Operations and Chief financial Officer for the Lucas County Land Bank, told the Toledo City Paper. “She literally took $4,500 initially, probably with all of the volunteer work that happened all that site … with all of the volunteering and donated supplies, she has turned that site into a stake in our neighborhood. …. Not only did her garden help the community with the vacant land, beautify and provide services for a food desert, she also invested in the residents around it.”
Mike Hoskins, who lives across Woodland Avenue from the site, helps maintain operations. He asked Flunder-McNair what was going on when he saw the site being developed and ended up getting hired.
“I’m learning as I go,” Hoskins said, when asked what he likes about working at Tatum.
The only building still standing on the property is home to Gloria Wright, who has been involved with the project since Flunder-McNair knocked on her door. Her home was improved as part of the revitalization of her corner of Junction, and to contribute to the self-reliance of community improvement.
“I’m looking to see what is next because I know there’s been a lot of work going on,” Wright said in an interview by phone. “I’m really excited because I feel that she is a tremendous help to the community.”
Future plans include a fence that will be eventually constructed around the perimeter of the garden to protect it from vandalism. And Flunder-McNair plans to eventually add a ten foot wide strip of gravel to allow food trucks to access the garden from the alley.
Also in the works is a future jogging trail connecting Tatum Park to the Metroparks. This prospect is very much in its early stages, according to Scott Carpenter, public relations director at Metroparks Toledo.