LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Sandwiched between the Watterson Expressway and a stretch of train tracks, a thriving community garden adds a pop of green to the Shelby Park neighborhood of Louisville.

What You Need To Know

  • An urban garden in Louisville is helping plants adapt to the urban heat island

  • Before 1970, the city emphasized building parking lots and using asphalt

  • Last year, Louisville Metro Council overturned Weed Ordinance

  • Now, residents in Shelby Park, Russel and Smoketown neighborhoods can grow managed native plants up to 10 inches tall on their property

Jody Dahmer often harvests the garden, creating a place where plants can successfully grow. 

“It’s really hard to find plants, unless they’re grown in the city that survive a really high temperatures here,” Dahmer said. “Stuff you get out of state or even out of county has a really hard time even turning into an onion or something you can eat or for your family.”  

Before 1970, Dahmer said city development emphasized building parking lots and using asphalt inside the Watterson. Often dubbed a “heat island,” that makes these neighborhoods to be on average 5-10 degrees warmer than the suburbs, where greenery is much more common. 

“The stuff that you buy at the grocery store for seeds and trying to make your own food, a lot of times, that wasn’t grown in an urban environment,” he said. “And so a lot of people have a hard time growing food in the urban heat island of Louisville.” 

The garden is part of the Louisville Seedbank, a pilot program exchanging seeds from local plants. This yields plants that are more likely to withstand the local environment. 

The food grown here is free for anyone to harvest.

But any leftovers will be replanted—hopefully now with an added resistance to the heat.

Gardening for Dahmer is a family tradition. His grandparents gardened in Cumberland County and his uncle was a professor of agriculture. Growing up in the Louisville suburbs, Dahmer tapped into his family knowledge to learn more about the trade.  

“And there’s a little bit of a cultural difference there,” Dahmer said. “Everybody has to eat. You know, no matter who you are, people need to feed themselves, feed their children.”

Last year, Louisville Metro Council unanimously overturned the Weed Ordinance, which allows residents to grow managed natural landscapes on their property. Before this, residents who grew plants ten inches or higher were subject to fines or citations. It’s a reason why this urban garden can exist.

“That just goes to show how much of a uniting issue it is, to have food, to have flowers on your land,” Dahmer said. 

Developments like parking lots are negatively affecting the area, Dahmer said. And it’s not an isolated case affecting how people eat. 

“When you tear down the grocery store, a lot of time you can’t walk to get food,” he said. “And changing the weed ordinance, and showing other neighborhoods especially that you can do this on any land you have, you just have to know the ways to make it safe to eat: raised beds, have the right tools, but once you learn the process, it’s really easy to get started.”

Dahmer is truly reaping the fruit of his hard work.