Community gardens need infrastructure from the City and a good manager

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Breena Holland is an Associate Professor at Lehigh University in the Department of Political Science and the Environmental Initiative. She is a past director of Lehigh University’s South Side Initiative.

ref: Mary Toulouse’s pitch for a planning process to develop community gardens.


I have tried to keep various community gardens afloat on the south side for a number of years. Interest and use of the gardens waxes and wanes over time, but they often face basic infrastructural challenges that inhibit success.

For instance, many years ago when Alice Gast was president of Lehigh University, she built a community garden in the MLK Park on Carleton Ave. However, no one ever set up a water spigot for this garden, so we have had an ongoing challenge of sustaining water there.

A community garden should not be set up without a source of water. We put water totes in the garden, but then they must be filled by the city, which is difficult to coordinate. If a nearby home owner fills them, then their monthly bill for sewage treatment increases, because the provider thinks all that water going into the tote is going down the house’s drain.

Another problem is ongoing maintenance. The city has not  been willing to manage the weeds or otherwise take care of a community garden on public property, even when they will let people garden there–I’m sure you can imagine how large that task might become if gardeners started expecting city workers to take care of their garden beds.

Consequently, the gardens need people who are committed to not just growing their own food but taking care of the collective space. This has been a challenge at times. But I think a reliable source of water at a garden would draw more support from community members, so the development of infrastructure must go hand-in-hand with increasing expectations for gardeners to take care of their collective space.

When the Maze garden was destroyed, a group of students at Lehigh University were successful in working with Mayor Donchez to develop a section of the Greenway between Taylor and Webster streets, which the students used for gardening and cooking programing they organized for the kids in the Bethlehem Boys and Girls Club. They planted fruit trees and installed raised beds and used the garden until Boys and Girls Club was moved. At that point, the garden was too far away to use in the same way.

This section of the Greenway is now maintained by a group of volunteers at Lehigh University and also by a local group that takes care of the beautiful Native Plants Garden that is also on that section of the Greenway. Because of the centrality of the location and the public nature of it, we have never been able to make this a garden where community members can grow their own food. That probably would require fencing and an area that does not have so much traffic, so the Greenway is not the best location.

There are other areas for gardens. For some time there were beds up at Ullman Park, but this garden suffered from a lack of infrastructure and consequently a lack of commitment.

For this reason, as mentioned above, I have come to believe that creating the right infrastructure is the most important part of a garden’s success. There must be water, fencing, beds, and someone who can ensure certain tasks are handled, such as compost delivery, waste removal, path maintenance, weed control, etc.

It’s possible that a motivated community group can do these latter tasks on their own, if the water and fencing is there, but I don’t think it’s wise to expect this when gardeners have to lug their own water to their beds and fight off pests that eat their food.

Other crucial resources needed are tools and information and education. But it might make more sense for people to use these things to garden in their own backyards (if they have a backyard) rather than on city property, where the water remains a limiting factor.

In general, gardens are great if the city commits to providing some infrastructure and you have a tyrannical manager who also happens to be a good community leader, which is not easy to find.

CSAs (Community-supported Agriculture) may be a better way to feed people than gardens, but that’s another conversation.
Let’s keep this conversation going. I think that in certain places gardens can really thrive and become meaningful to the community.


Easton video promoting curbside food pickup

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Tip o’ the hat to a follower for calling this article to Gadfly’s attention as an example of the way the problem pointed to in Councilman Reynolds’ recent resolution can be handled without City involvement.


from Connor Lagore, “Easton restaurants launch #CurbsideFirst to thwart delivery companies taking too much off top.”, May 16, 2020.

Easton restaurants have worked with the Greater Easton Development Partnership to put together a video calling for #CurbsideFirst, as many of these restaurants have fulfilled orders through third-party delivery apps like UberEats or GrubHub. These companies can take up to 30% of the total bill, forcing restaurants to operate on slimmer margins than the margins the coronavirus pandemic has already brought them.

see complete video

Of course, with the pandemic sweeping the country, food delivery has become much more popular, as local restaurants need support and it’s the easiest way of supporting them. But placing orders on a restaurant’s website or over the phone cuts out the middle man and allows for restaurants to take 100% of the check.

Some restaurants, like Centre Square neighbors Stoke Coal Fire Pizza & Bar and Pearly Baker’s Alehouse, have started doing their own deliveries to mitigate the need for a third-party service at all.

Plus, the GEDP is giving you an incentive. The organization is giving away a $50 Downtown Easton gift card every week until the end of June. To be eligible, pick up a meal from one of Easton’s restaurants, share it on Facebook with the hashtag #CurbsideFirst and tag the GEDP.

Closing lane on Main St. a “fantastic idea”

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Breena Holland is an Associate Professor at Lehigh University in the Department of Political Science and the Environmental Initiative. She is a past director of Lehigh University’s South Side Initiative.



What a fantastic idea to close off a lane on Main Street to make it possible for restaurants to use the street space to social distance. A cafe in Germany made customers wear caps with pool noodles to ensure social distancing.


I’m sure many people will want to stay home and stay safe, but this pandemic is going to last awhile, and I agree with those who think we have to start to find ways to safely keep our small businesses alive. In my opinion, we have to have a plan for testing and contact-tracing before most people will feel comfortable. Are people willing to provide data on their movements if they get sick, so that others can be warned? What kind of testing capacity do we have locally? I don’t know how we get very far without knowing the answers to these (and other) questions.

Best, Breena

Gadfly wonders if we couldn’t put our noodles together and come up with spacing apparel that relates uniquely to Bethlehem and our historic character (faux I-beams?), apparel that would not only be fun but so distinctive, so representative of our town that we would gain national attention. Gadfly’s mailbox is open for suggestions.

“The farmers are concerned about having enough affordable food for the community”

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Video: City Council meeting May 19
begin min. 28:50

Apropos of her discussion about providing healthy local food at the Rose Garden Farmers’ Market, at the end of her public comment presentation at City Council last Tuesday Mary Toulouse made a pitch for a planning process to develop community gardens:

  • Food pantries are looking for food.
  • Farmers are experiencing the destructive effects of climate change.
  • “The farmers are concerned about having enough affordable food for the community.”
  • Some council members spoke about having community gardens at the last meeting.
  • Community gardens in city parks can help with the food situation.
  • There’s a community park in Battery Park, New York City.
  • There’s a community park in the Paris Tuileries garden in front of the Louvre.
  • A successful community garden needs planning, long-term planning, the kind that might be done by an Action Group or the Environmental Advisory Council.
  • But short-term perhaps the City could designate some sites.

Gadfly knew it was a crazy idea, but he wished the community garden at 3rd and New before the Zest building had not only been allowed to remain but was enhanced. Think of the message — the different message — that a community garden at the gateway to the Southside would say about the values in our town.

Gadfly remembers sitting in on a Southside 2020 meeting last year at which the large number of small community gardens on the southside was discussed. Can anybody fill in information on this? Are residents already highly engaged in this kind of activity?

What do you think of community gardens in city parks?

Gadfly invites you to sit in the Mayor’s chair

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Video: City Council meeting May 19
begin min. 21:10

“Sometimes I get the feeling that the City doesn’t consider farmer’s markets
an essential partner in the supply chain for food.”
Mary Toulouse

“It’s really a shame to hear members of the group feeling so frustrated
with the lack of support from the Administration.”
Councilwoman Olga Negron

Here’s one for you to chew on.

The Bethlehem Rose Garden Farmers’ Market is a respected, popular, all-volunteer local institution run by MANA, the Mount Airy Neighborhood Association. Mary Toulouse is MANA president and manager of the farmers’ market.

At City Council Tuesday, approval of a permit for the farmers’ market was on the agenda. Toulouse made a strong report on the market’s activities even though approval of the permit itself was never in doubt.

Her strong report concluded, however, with a lament “that the City doesn’t consider farmer’s markets an essential partner in the supply chain for food,” the wish that the City would lend a “helping hand once in a while” (little things like showcasing the farmers’ markets on the web site), and hope for a waiver of fees totaling over a $1000 for the season for necessary police barricades for necessary crowd control.

All in Toulouse’s typical polite, respectful, yet forceful style.

Now Gadfly has often asked you to play Council member. He enjoys that himself. It’s a fun part of being a Gadfly. And it helps us understand what it takes to be the kind of person we vote for.

This time he asks you to play Mayor.

You are the steward of our tax money. City services cost money. There is an established, legislative fee structure for certain City services. MANA is a worthy organization. But there are dozens, maybe hundreds of worthy non-profit organizations in the city. How do you justify waiving fees for one and not others? And, since inevitably the City can not do everything for every worthy non-profit organization, the fee might be seen as a kind of necessary control valve on requests rather than just a nasty revenue generator. (You would probably want to remind yourself how much revenue such fees generate. A lot? A little? Does anyone know where to find that line on the budget?)

Listen to Toulouse’s “case”: MANA has established rules for social distancing; they have lined up 12 vendors of essential products; their meat supply comes from local sources not from industrial plants where atrocious conditions abound; they will keep a local egg farmer from having to kill his chickens; they are supporting small, local, independent farmers, many of whom locally and nationally have stopped production or are on the brink of doing so; they are picking up the slack in the food supply chain, the signs of whose disruption are plainly evident.

The case for the waiver is emotionally strong. It feels like it might be easy for you to say yes. But you remember that — to cite just one example with which Gadfly is familiar — you had a request last year to waive fees associated with a block party in a model neighborhood. And you remember that such requests are worthy too. O, if you could only keep your waiver quiet. But word gets around.

Then, adding to your headache, Councilwoman Negron supports the waiver, reminding you that an established group like ArtsQuest tried a farmers’ market several years ago and couldn’t pull off what this volunteer group has done so well. “It’s an asset to our city, to the entire city,” says the Councilwoman, “we should be taking care of it. . . . I don’t understand. It’s like we are working backwards.” And the Councilwoman widens the scope of her point beyond MANA: “I really hope the Administration takes a closer look at what this group and others are doing and facilitates what they are doing and looks at it in a different way.” She seems to be calling for a whole new look at this fee structure and to whom it applies.

(Gadfly has a secret. Is anybody listening? Probably doesn’t matter. It was so long ago that everybody concerned is probably dead except Gadfly. But when he was a Little League president a century ago, these kinds of “minor” requests for services were done sub rosa for a case of beer. Ahh, the good old days of the Wild West.)

So, if Mayor, what would you do about a waiver?

(Ms. Toulouse raised another but associated point in her presentation, and we’ll look at that next.)

Councilman Callahan fosters ideas for opening restaurants for outside service

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Video: City Council meeting May 19
begin min. 54:05

If Gadfly understood Mr. Evans correctly, the City had ideas of closing streets and using parklets to improve outside accessibility to services by restaurants and other of our small businesses, but these plans have been put on hold for now by state directives.

Councilman Callahan strongly supported this idea, indicating that he had sent a letter to the governor (see below) as well as talking personally with the mayor.

  • Some of our most successful businesses on Main St. and Southside are really struggling.
  • Some might not make it.
  • The Home Depots, etc., are open, and we are allowing curbside for restaurants.BCallahan
  • How about closing the roads one-way — one-way traffic — giving more table space and socially distancing space?
  • Can possibly be done in a safe manner: paper goods, non-reusable utensils, etc.
  •  Only family members that live under the same roof at a table, for instance.
  • Others would have to be 6 feet away.
  • Owners realize the virus might come back in the fall.
  • Just trying to get their sales up a little bit to survive.
  • Encourages the City to talk with the business owners and come up with a plan for the right time.
  • Home Depots, etc., are handling the bathroom cleaning issue — could be done here in our downtowns as well.


Callahan 1

Callahan 2

Mayor’s report on COVID-19 matters at City Council last night

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Video: City Council meeting May 19
begin min. 39:30

Business Administrator Evans gave the Mayor’s report last night at the City Council meeting, providing information on these 10 items, all but one relating to the COVID-19 mess.

Gadfly will return soon with discussion generated by some of the items in the Mayor’s list.

1) Summer recreational programming: closing pools, parks programming closed, some sites closed till further notice after evaluation (skate park, dog park, basketball courts, pavilion rentals, Ice House, Illicks Mill), neighborhood parks themselves open with encouragement to stay off the playground equipment, tennis courts at Clearview, Monocacy, and West Side are open, and trails are open.

2) Developing business plan for northside and southside with outside dining, reaching out to small business merchants so to develop a plan to support them when the time is right, according to state outdoor eating areas and picnic areas are not allowed at this time.

3) Supporting Council and Bethlehem Chamber resolution not to use 3rd parties for pick-up service at restaurants.

4) Taking steps to safely re-open City Hall, new security system will be active

5) Public meetings to begin again virtually in June, special consideration for the needs of Zoning Board.

6) Yard Waste Center operating successfully, mulch coming, recycling center plans for opening still developing.

7) Golf course opened successfully, some changes noted, work done is beautiful.

8) Library is developing plans for providing approved services when the state gives go-ahead.

9) Bethlehem Parking Authority is suffering financially, and the company providing their app has suddenly ceased operation, positive plans already in motion for a new app.

10) Some complaints received on businesses open contrary to state regulations, some warnings issued, will follow directions from the district attorneys of both counties about how to proceed.