Brad Fields, of East Toledo, has always wanted to give back to his community.
After going and growing through some personal issues, Fields decided to give back to his community and help area youth along the way.
The Owens Community College student and 1998 Clay High School graduate moved to the Raymer district a few years ago. Not knowing anyone in the neighborhood, Fields decided to create, from the ground up, five community gardens, now known as the Dreams of Fields Community Project.
|Brad Fields, along with his dog, Angel, in the Dreams of Fields Community Project. Press photo by Ken Grosjean)
“When I moved to the neighborhood six years ago, no one talked to anyone,” Fields said. “Now, everybody knows everybody. It is a very nice neighborhood now and I just wanted to help make it a little nicer and to help inspire the youth around here.”
Seeing vacant houses being torn down and the resulting ugly, empty spaces that were left, Fields started the Dreams project by purchasing one of the empty lots to start a garden last year. He and his volunteers have since taken over four other lots in the district.
“I am not a person who can just sit around,” Fields said. “I have a lot of energy and I just wanted to give back. I have had a lot of issues in the past and I read the Bible a lot. I know we have a bigger purpose here and it is not just materialistic. If the gardens can inspire and change a young child, it is worth more money to me than anything in the world. I want to see people succeed.”
The mission of Dreams is fairly simple. Fields wants to inspire and help youth while building a stronger community.
“Strong communities, where people take care of the area, are communities where people do not let certain things go on,” he said. “When people take care of their community and help to make it a better place, they begin to look out for one another.”
Last year, the Dreams project had 10 to 15 young volunteers. The garden produced vegetables for the kids to take home as well as providing lots of color in the neighborhood through the use of perennials. This year, Fields has expanded the project to include 100 chickens and nine rabbits. The chicken, when large enough, will be slaughtered and the youth will also be able to take a chicken home with them.
“I plan on using two of the lots to grow alfalfa and chicken food,” Fields said. “Today, knowing where your food comes from is very important. I want to teach the kids how to care for the animals and hopefully we will be able to feed the animals fresh, organic food that we have grown.”
Fields is currently studying urban agriculture and landscape design. It is through his training at Owens that he has been able to create beautiful gardens in once desolate and decaying urban lots.
“We are planning on growing beans, tomatoes, eggplants, corn and more in many of the lots,” Fields said. “The volunteers will also be able to take the vegetables home with them. I love Owens. I have learned so much through the classes and I really enjoy passing what I have learned on.”
Fields would also like to see more adults become involved in the Dreams project.
“Anyone who would like a raised bed or an area to grow their own garden are welcome to come and plant and take care of their garden,” Fields said. “
The Dreams project is now a non-profit group in Ohio. Fields is currently finishing up filing with the federal government for his 510(c)3 status.
Fields credits Toledo GROWs with helping with the project.
“They have given us compost, mulch, rabbits, and plants,” he said. “They are just awesome people.”
Toledo GROWs is the community gardening outreach program of Toledo Botanical Garden. The program is a grassroots nonprofit organization dedicated to the continued growth and success of community-based gardens.
Courtney Billian, Toledo Grows community consultant, said community gardens are growing in popularity. In 2008, the organization worked with 65 community gardens and gardeners. This year, they are serving 150 gardens.
“The gardens just make the city look a lot nicer,” Billian said. “The gardens also help teach people how to feed themselves and how to maintain a healthy lifestyle.”
Toledo Grows helps serve and support gardens by giving the gardeners plants, mulch, and planned volunteers who will help with preparing the soil and maintenance of the gardens.
The group has partnered with Owens, helping to teach students urban agriculture at its Oneida Garden in Toledo.
For more information on Toledo Grows, contact Courtney Billian at (419) 260-4615.
To get involved with the Dreams of Fields Community Project, call Brad Fields at (419) 250-8305. The organization also has a Facebook Page at Dreams of Fields Community Project.