Open Space notes – “Vacant Lots, Buildings and Yards”

Below are notes from individuals at Transition Goshen’s Open Space event “Expanding the Garden – How can we produce more food in our urban spaces?”

A variety of groups were formed around different topics.  The notes below were submitted  from Jon Zirkle who formed the topic.


Vacant Lots, Buildings and Yards: Creative use for food production and/or native habitat, carbon building

Session at “Expanding the Garden”, March 16, 2013 – Newcomer Center at Goshen College

Notes written by Jon Zirkle – email hidden; JavaScript is required


Why transform unused spaces?

  1. Creating life-giving spaces in blighted areas – mental health, neighborhood security
  2. Allows for more places for community gathering, potentially
  3. Carbon sequestration potential depending on the planting schematic, type of use
  4. Possible job creation, opportunities to engage youth or adults who want to get outside, feel more utilized and that they are contributing to the community


  1. Approach city officials/agencies about reclaimed properties that were abandoned, foreclosed, etc.
  2. In Elkhart, there have been many vacant lots that have become available, as a number of buildings have been demolished as part of the federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program.
    1. According to Nicole Baumann, the city won’t sell you a vacant lot unless you are a neighbor. They can write you land use leases, and you pay the utilities as the lessee
  3. Depending on whether the lot has been tested for soil contamination, there may be a need to somehow ensure that plants grown for consumption do not interact with contaminated soil. Sealing off the ground with a clay lining and building up on top of that could be one option. Raised beds using gleaned timber, etc, could be another option.
  4. If the goal is simply to create green space and ‘carbon building,’ it may be possible to seek donation of wood chips, leaves, mulches of sorts, etc from city’s public works department (chipped wood from downed branches following storms, for example) to build up a lot.
  5. Jon Zirkle mentioned the idea he’d encountered from a professor at University of Vermont who has designed and succeeded in transforming former industrial buildings into spaces to grow indoor crops – example, hothouse tomatoes. Keep the shell of the structure, but add windows, ventilation, etc to make them usable for ‘indoor agriculture.’ Someone mentioned that there is such a structure somewhere in Cass Co., Michigan (Edwardsburg, maybe?). Such a building may need to be acquired somehow cheaply. Not sure how that could be done, but there are surely many abandoned former industrial buildings in Goshen or Elkhart.
  6. There was discussion of whether there were opportunities to work with Unity Gardens on such a project or at least utilize the model by which they have succeeded in transforming such spaces.
  7. Involve the community, neighbors, etc. Make sure such a project is organized from the bottom up, not a top-down, outsiders moving in and taking over mentality.
  8. May need legal advice on such a project – Becky Herschberger, who has helped with brownfield reclamation projects, came up as a possible contact nearby.


  1. There may be a city lot in Elkhart that Nicole is aware of, even has been offered, but she wonders who would help her if she were take this space on. This space is at the intersection of Prairie and Indiana. It had a house on it formerly. Prominent location: it is near to Prairie St. Mennonite Church (and a Mennonite Volunteer Service house), across from the old Roosevelt School.


  1. Certainty of the future with such properties. Could the city revoke the lease without notice? How could people get certainty of use of the property?
  2. Contamination issues
  3. Community participation and buy-in
Recent Related Posts

Comments are closed.