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Willona Sloan, Strategic Storyteller02/16/2021

In Lincoln, Nebraska, Tim Rinne and Kay Walter launched an urban gardening movement in their Hawley neighborhood. In an area classified as a food desert, the couple devised a plan to increase access to fresh, healthy produce, while also developing a way to bring their neighbors closer together. The idea formed about 10 years ago when Tim became increasingly more concerned about how climate change could potentially affect the food supply. "[Scientists] were talking about how with the higher temperatures, it would be harder to grow food, and the risk of transportation break-downs, because we have a local distribution system," says Tim. "Where does my food come from? I don't really know. That's really what propelled me to get more interested." 

Tim Rinne & Kay Walter stand in their homeTim started to focus on improving his home gardening skills, and he earned his certification as a master gardener, but it was a training Tim attended that helped him and Kay realize they could start a hyper local gardening movement. "Tim attended a program in Minnesota with one of our neighbors, and that program was talking about the issue of food deserts," says Kay. "A group of us started brainstorming about what we could do locally." Tim and Kay dug up their lawn to create an entirely edible landscape. "Everything in our yard now is some sort of edible plant for humans or it's an edible plant for wildlife in this area," says Tim. They helped their daughter to purchase a home on the same block, and that yard was developed into an edible landscape as well. 

The next goal was to inspire their neighbors to join them. "Kay and I really understood that this needed to be group effort," says Tim. Because many of the houses on their block weren't suitable for gardening due to their shady conditions under large trees, Tim and Kay invited their neighbors to garden on their property. At first, getting people onboard took some convincing. "We employed the oldest political device in human history: bribery," says Tim. "We offered people free, freshly picked strawberries that we had grown in our yard." 

Since 2010, Tim and Kay have gone from having the only garden on the block, to now gardening with 20 of our neighbors, who either live in the block or directly across the street. "It's very local. It's a block, but it's a start," says Kay. The residents have affectionately dubbed this two-block area as the "Hawley Hamlet," due its strong sense of community spirit. 

The Hawley Hamlet has multiple edible landscapes, garden beds, pollinator gardens, hoop houses, and fruit and nut trees. Tim and Kay have helped out by paying for extra water costs, and even purchased some of the trees themselves. The local crops have included tomatoes, peas, peppers, cucumbers, potatoes, lettuce, bush beans, zucchini, eggplant, radishes, spinach and carrots. 

Tim and Kay say it's their connection to NeighborWorks that inspired their hard work and financial investment in the Hawley Hamlet. In the early 1990s, Tim served on the NeighborWorks Lincoln board. Kay recently was chosen to become a NeighborWorks Lincoln board member.

"NeighborWorks has been really involved in either building or renovating houses in our immediate area, and I think they have put, probably close to $1 million into this area. We have not matched that, but we have put quite a bit in," says Kay, who notes that she and Tim have done renovation projects in addition to rehabbing the home their daughter bought on their block. 

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Grant Daily, Community Specialist with NeighborWorks Lincoln, started gardening with Tim and Kay in 2018, after meeting Tim through the Lincoln-Lancaster County Food Policy Council, which focuses on improving the local food system. "I kept wanting to learn more about the mission that Tim and Kay are furthering here," says Grant, who now lives in the Hawley Hamlet himself. Grant also helped to create an edible landscape at the NeighborWorks Lincoln office, which is just a few blocks away.

Tim and Kay's initiative has gained support from members of the city council as well. In fact, two council members have garden plots in the Hawley Hamlet, as well as students from the University of Nebraska's environmental studies program, who receive internship credit for working in the neighborhood plots. Last summer, NeighborWorks Lincoln's public outreach campaign, Mowing to Growing, drew inspiration from their work. The campaign encouraged Lincoln residents to grow some of their own food, with the goal of making the community more food secure. 

"The example they have provided is one of neighborhood compassion, neighborhood care, and sustainable advocacy for both food system and environmental solutions," says NeighborWorks Lincoln CEO Wayne Mortensen. "I think Tim and Kay have really shone a light on how Lincoln can operate and what infrastructure we might consider in the creation of our new neighborhoods and the rebuilding of our old." 

For the Dorothy Richardson award winners, they say they are grateful to NeighborWorks Lincoln and their neighbors for their support. "Kay and I are going to have our names on the award, but this award goes to all of the Hamleteers, and it also goes specifically to NeighborWorks Lincoln," says Tim. 


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