PITTSBURG — Following similar projects in Pittsburg, Frontenac and Hepler, a new community garden is scheduled to open in Arma by July 4.

While the nonprofit Live Well Crawford County donated $7,500 from a Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas Pathways Initiative grant to those three other community gardens in the county last year, the garden planned for Arma is the first one that the group is taking a central role in setting up, although the community itself is really leading the project, according to Matt O'Malley, health equity grant coordinator and community liaison at Live Well.

The first stage of the project involved four community discussions, O’Malley said, which took place at the Arma City Library. Thirt-five to 50 residents participated in each of the monthly meetings between November and February, coming up with an initial list of 20 potential projects before narrowing it down to five. In February an “overwhelming majority” of meeting attendees voted for the community garden project.

Live Well is now working with the community in Arma to select a location for the garden. Potential sites include lots owned by the city or by individuals. The main requirements are access to water and sunlight, which means a wide variety of locations could potentially work for the project, although O’Malley said the “most exciting option” may be a piece of land owned by Northeast High School in Arma and located just south of the school.

“The sustainability aspect gets a lot more real when students are involved,” O’Malley said.

A major goal of the community garden is to provide fresh produce to lower income residents. O’Malley said the Arma library is open to the idea of setting up a food pantry where food grown at the garden could be given away for free to low income residents. Others could donate to the pantry or purchase food at low cost, and fresh vegetables or fruits grown at the garden would also be available to volunteers who help maintain the garden to take home at the end of their shifts.

“Whether you’re low income or higher income, if you live in Arma you’re still 9 miles away from a tomato,” O’Malley said, referring to the lack of grocery stores in the town.

As for what varieties of vegetables or produce will be grown at the garden, O’Malley said Live Well plans to poll the community to find out what is in demand.

After Live Well donated the $7,500 of grant money to the three other community gardens in the county last year, Brad Stroud, executive director of the nonprofit, told the Morning Sun there was a pressing need for fresh produce in the communities served by the gardens. “People really want more of these healthy options and we think community gardens will help fill that gap,” he said.

Ultimately, though, the long-term success of the gardens depends on community engagement.

“We hope that community gardens here locally will continue to grow and succeed,” Stroud said. “They make a real difference in the availability of fresh vegetables for families who really need it.”

The next step for the Arma project is to reach its fundraising goal of $9,000 to finance setting up the garden, which the nonprofit is already two thirds of the way towards raising. Those interested in supporting the project can visit Live Well’s Facebook page or livewellcrawfordcounty.org, although O’Malley said another step in the project in the near future will be to set up a dedicated website for the fundraising effort for the garden. Live Well is optimistic that the garden can be up and running and growing food by this summer.

“It’s not too crazy to say we’ll be eating tomatoes by the 4th of July,” O’Malley said.