DECATUR, Ill. (WCIA) — Decatur officials say vacant houses have been an issue in the city and they say it only seems to be getting worse in the Old King’s Orchard neighborhood.
“This is a neighborhood that really doesn’t have a lot of residents and not a lot of residents moving in. A lot of the houses are really in disrepair,” said Nicky Besser, Executive Director for Good Samaritan Inn.
However, the city, Old King’s Orchard Community Center, and The Good Samaritan Inn have a plan to turn things around. And Decatur got a million dollars from the state to help make it happen. Crews have started the process of turning empty lots and dilapidated homes into community gardens.
“This isn’t like your backyard garden this is with tractors and plowing things up,” said Mayor Julie Moore Wolfe.
Some gardens will provide food, others flowers, but they all will provide opportunities for people who live near them.
“So, it’s a way to utilize the space, beautify the space, make it something where people are actually it’s a destination where people are coming here and associating it with something beautiful,” said Besser.
Old King’s Orchard will be targeting at-risk kids by putting them to work maintaining the lots. Good Samaritan Inn will be doing something similar but feeding the community in the process.
“It’s really hard to both afford and have access to fresh local healthy produce. So, we are all about increasing access to produce for everyone,” said Besser.
They’ll be using five acres to expand on an already existing program. It provides one free meal a day, fresh produce, and gardening education to members of the community. The executive director said last year they supplied close to 46,000 servings of produce to the area. She’s hoping they can expand that with their new land by being a produce distribution hub for Central Illinois
“It’s going to be an exciting thing to watch, be sure to drive by and see how it’s going,” said Mayor Moore Wolfe.