Lisa Helm, the founder of Dayton Urban Grown Farm, stands among the plantings at the co-op and training farm. Helm also founded Garden Station, which was evicted from a city-owned property last year. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF

Dayton Urban Farm founder angered by city’s Garden Station eviction

The one-year anniversary of the Dayton Urban Grown Farm was bittersweet for some supporters because the farm’s groundbreaking last September coincides with the eviction — and end of — Garden Station.

Farm founder Lisa Helm, who also started Garden Station, says the training farm and urban growers co-op at 933 Xenia Ave. now has much of the infrastructure installed so that training classes hopefully will begin in the spring.

But Helm said the farm does not replace Garden Station, which was an art and community park located near the Oregon Historic District that was evicted by the city of Dayton, which supported a redevelopment project.

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Some people incorrectly assume that Garden Station relocated to the Xenia Avenue property, Helm said.

“We should write an obituary for the garden, because it’s dead and it did not die of natural causes,” Helm said. 

A city spokesperson said Garden Station’s lease expired 10 months before it was actually evicted, allowing for the completion of one last full growing season and giving supporters ample time to find a new home to relocate the park.

Officials said they wanted and offered to help transition Garden Station to a new site, and the city’s actions have supported the creation of the new co-op farm. The park’s eviction paves the way for $30 million or more in potential redevelopment projects, officials said.

The new Dayton Urban Grown Farm is slightly less than a quarter-acre parcel of land that will be used for food production and urban farming classes.

The property, in the Twin Towers neighborhood in east Dayton, has three hoop houses, planting beds, a fridge, sidewalk beds and multiple zones where crops can be rotated.

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People will be able to take classes to learn how to be urban farmers, which will make them eligible to farm at the site, Helm said.

Crops harvested at the farm are sold at 2nd Street Market and to some local restaurants. The selection of produce has included cabbage, arugula, chard, carrots, lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and sweet potatoes.

The farm co-op, which had a groundbreaking Sept. 10, 2016, was built by volunteers. The group is raising money to build a storage shed with a heated greenhouse and another shed to wash, bag and store produce.

But progress at the site has not alleviated the lingering resentment Helm and some other farm supporters still have over the city’s eviction of Garden Station.

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The land at Wayne Avenue and Fourth Street, which belonged to the city, was transferred to Kentucky developer Weyland Ventures, which has converted an industrial building across the street into hip, new urban lofts.

The developer has proposed creating an urban entertainment and housing district called Oregon East, featuring a blend of uses.

Many people were disappointed and frustrated to see Garden Station forced out, like Ed Jackson, who volunteered at the park for several hours every week since its inception.

“I especially enjoyed and appreciated the art part of it, so we really hated to leave the wall with all the art on it, all the sculptures and all the hard work that went into it,” said Jackson, who now volunteers at the farm.

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Garden Station was 10 times the size of the new farm site, which allowed it to host public events and hold lots of artwork, Helm said. Dayton Urban Grown Farm is not a public space and does not have room for art, Helm said.

Garden Station had more than 1,000 people attend its 70 free classes every year, and it was a community amenity and destination that attracted big crowds for special events, like an Earth Day celebration, Helm said.

More than 3,000 people volunteered to build and improve Garden Station over the years, and it was not feasible to try to recreate the amount of volunteer hours and energy that went into building the park, Helm said.

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A city spokesperson said Dayton planning staff toured five potential urban garden sites with Helm and tried to help relocate Garden Station, but she and others were not cooperative.

The city demolished two structures at the 933 Xenia Ave. site and transferred them to East End Neighborhood Development Corporation for use as a community garden, officials said.

The property currently belongs to the Montgomery County Land Bank, but it will be transferred to East End and then will be turned over to the Urban Grown farm co-op.

The city’s Board of Zoning Appeals approved a variance to construct a chain link fence at the right of way line along Xenia Avenue to support the garden, officials said.

The Dayton Circus Creative Collective, a group of local artists, helped establish Garden Station in 2008.

The group had a lease with the city, which expired at the end of 2015. The city gave Garden Station until the end of October to move elsewhere.

In a March 2016 letter, City Manager Shelley Dickstein told Helm that the city is trying to knit together the redevelopment “successes” along East Third Street, Webster Station and Oregon Historic District.

The city anticipates $30 million in private sector investment in the 8-acre area by Fourth Street and Wayne Avenue, which will be a phased development that creates a high-density, mixed use district offering the living and retail space characteristic of a truly connected urban environment, Dickstein wrote.

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