Support for community & backyard gardening should be part of a climate action plan!

Peter Crownfield is officially retired but spends most of his time working with students in his role as internship coordinator for the Alliance for Sustainable Communities–Lehigh Valley.

Gadfly:

Connor makes some very important points here, and I’d like to highlight a few:

• Growing your own food lets you enjoy fresher, healthier food than is available in stores.
• You can grow herbs and specialty foods that are hard to find in stores
• Growing without synthetic chemicals helps make sure the food is healthy & free of poisons — and also takes carbon dioxide from the air and sequesters it in the soil.
• Local growing produces far lower greenhouse gas emissions [GHG] because it is less mechanized and avoids much of the processing and transportation
• Composting food waste is a great way to return nutrients to the soil while reducing GHG from disposing in the landfill (and Bethlehem could expand its compost facility to compost food waste without having to pay high fees to a commercial composter
• Community gardening and sharing food from backyard gardens strengthens community
• Community meals offer another great opportunity for building community

Yes, support for community & backyard gardening should be of a climate action plan!

Peter

The Gadfly thread on community gardening has gotten lost in the issues surrounding the killing of George Floyd, and I am glad to get it back on track.

Community Gardens for an Ecological Future

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Connor Burbridge is a Community Fellow at Lehigh University and has been an organizer with the Community Action Development Corporation of Bethlehem and the Southside Garden Alliance for the last two years.

Gadfly:

Climate Change is something that has been a big concern for a lot of people, including in Northampton County. According to researchers from Yale, 64% of people in our county think climate change is happening and are worried about what changes it will cause (https://climatecommunication.yale.edu/visualizations-data/ycom-us/). This concern has been acted on by the city of Bethlehem with the recent approval of the Climate Action Plan. With the climate plan still in its beginning stages, it is now increasingly important for our community to put forward the challenges we face and the solutions we would like to see before our city commits to a climate plan for the next ten years. With the recent discussion around expanding community gardening in Bethlehem, I would like to put forward community gardens and backyard gardens as a key part of the solution to climate change that Bethlehem should address in its Climate Action Plan.

As an organizer with CADCB and the Southside Garden Alliance for the last two years, I have worked closely with community gardens and garden projects throughout South Bethlehem. South Bethlehem is already home to four different community gardens, including MLK Park Community Garden, the Esperanza Garden, the Lynfield Housing Burbridge 1Community Garden, and the Southside Permaculture Park. These community gardens are vibrant community space, where neighbors work together, grow their own fresh healthy food, and share in the harvest. There is nothing quite like seeing neighborhood kids for the first time pick a leaf of an herb and then bite into it, their eyes glowing in amazement and wonder. These kinds of experiences reconnect people to each other and the land, showing that a neighborhood is not just a place to live but a place to grow.

Community Gardens help the climate crisis in two major ways. First, gardens help to build social resilience by having us be more connected with our neighbors and community. With the upcoming changes from Climate Change, social resilience will be very important in keeping our community strong during trying times. Second, gardens cut down on waste and fossil fuel usage by providing healthy fresh food right in our backyards and neighborhoods. This has two benefits of reducing our reliance on fossil fuels and by also providing good food that improves the health of our community. Another added benefit is that gardens can also help take out carbon out of the atmosphere and help reverse climate change.

Starting and managing community gardens is hard work. Many people do not know how to garden or have the supplies to garden. Reaching out to people year after year takes a lot of time and resources. The Southside Garden Alliance has been trying to solve this problem with educational workshops and giving out free gardening supplies. However, our resources and funding are very limited, as we are a small program. In the 1930s, Bethlehem Mayor Robert Pfeifle saw to it that Bethlehem City managed over 175 garden plots and provided supplies for gardens to plant and preserve their harvest (https://www.bapl.org/digging-into-the-roots-of-south-side-gardening-pre-world-war-i-immigrant-gardens-and-today-tbt/). As part of Bethlehem’s current Climate Action Plan, the city can achieve something similar.

Imagine community gardens in every Bethlehem park where neighbors gather and share recipes and home cooking, with seeds supplied from the Seed Library at the Bethlehem Area Public Library and fresh soil supplied from the city of Bethlehem’s kitchen compost program.

Imagine getting to try fresh salsa made with tomatoes, onions, and peppers that your neighbor grew in his or her backyard.

Imagine walking through alley ways with vines of fresh beans, peas, and sunflowers draping over the fences.

This has been a part of Bethlehem’s past, and it can be a part of its future again.

Here are some possible considerations the City of Bethlehem could incorporate into its Climate Action Plan in order to ensure a successful community gardening program:

  1. Hire a part-time community garden organizer to manage and help build gardens in all of the city’s parks that can support a garden, including the Rose Garden
  2. Create a community compost program for community member’s kitchen scraps similar to the Easton Compost Program
  3. Support the creation of a Seed Library at BAPL
  4. Work with BASD’s Farm to School Program to connect students and their families to local neighborhood gardens

Connor

Gadfly learns about the Monocacy Farm Project

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Monocacy Farms

So, following an interest  kicked off by Mary Toulouse, Gadfly has been exploring community gardening.

Sometimes, though, you just wait and information comes to you.

The May 28 Fig Weekly called his attention to the Monocacy Farm Project, 395 Bridle Path Road.

In 2012, The School Sisters St. Francis sold a portion of their property in Hanover Township along the Monocacy Creek. True to their Franciscan tradition, the Sisters sought a sustainable use for their remaining farmland and committed to feeding the hungry, caring for the earth, and growing healthy community. Nourished by the support of local businesses, individuals, foundations, interfaith coalitions, and volunteers, the seed planted just 7 years ago has continued to grow. Today, the Monocacy Farm Project includes: community garden plots, production fields, a young apple orchard, a propagation greenhouse with rainwater collection, and solar power systems.

The Project’s Grow Healthy Community Initiative donates weekly supplies of organically-grown produce to area food pantries, soup kitchens, and shelters throughout the growing season. Educational workshops for children and adults are presented throughout the year on gardening, ecology, health and sustainability. In 2019, the farm initiated a “Pick-Your-Own” program for those wishing to harvest fresh fruits and vegetables. All donations received through the Community Gardens and Pick-Your-Own support the Grow Healthy Community Initiative.

Monocacy Farm Project

Mission

The Monocacy Farm Project seeks to use land and resources at Monocacy Manor in the Franciscan tradition to model stewardship and care of the earth, foster community involvement, provide educational opportunities, and serve the needs of the poor.

Project Goals

The primary goals of the Monocacy Farm Project are to:

  1. Provide area residents and low-income families access to affordable organic produce.
  2. Supply local shelters, food pantries and soup kitchens with donor-sponsored organic produce during the spring and summer growing seasons.
  3. Augment food security and facilitate self-sufficiency among low-income families through the promotion of home gardening programs.
  4. Provide educational programs to youth and adults on holistic health, nutrition and wellness in partnership with medical professionals, nutritionists, clinical herbalists and naturopaths.
  5. Provide annual workshops on sustainability, organic gardening, natural agriculture and permaculture.
  6. Provide interns and volunteers hands-on experience in organic gardening, production farming, and permaculture design.

Community Garden Program

Monocacy Farms makes community garden plots available to area residents wishing to plant and maintain their own vegetable gardens.  Farm staff compost and tractor-till the plots each spring. Mulch and well-water hydrants are provided free of charge by Monocacy Farms. Free instruction in organic and natural agriculture gardening methods is available to all those participating in the Community Garden Program. A donation of $100 per season is requested for a standard 10 ft x 25 ft. garden plot, and $175 for a 20ft x 25ft. plot. Proceeds are used to cover operating expenses and support the farm’s weekly donation of vegetables to area soup kitchens, food pantries and homeless shelters.

Addendum: the beat goes on. Gadfly has also learned about the 4-H Lynfield Community Garden Club conceived by Penn State Extension, Northampton County 4-H, and Lehigh Valley Master Gardeners  through the Southside Vision program. The club is currently focused on teaching youth about horticulture and basic backyard gardening.

Backyard gardening may be even more important

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Peter Crownfield is officially retired but spends most of his time working with students in his role as internship coordinator for the Alliance for Sustainable Communities–Lehigh Valley.

Gadfly:

10+ years ago, I was discussing with Ellen Larmer (who was then head of CADC-B), the idea of promoting backyard gardening here in Southside. We determined that it would take someone with good organizer abilities, solid experience with organic growing, and fluency in both Spanish and English. We had a likely person in mind and Ellen figured she could cobble together the funds to pay for 30 or so weeks, 15 hr/wk, at a fair pay of $15/hr.

While she loved the proposal for backyard gardens, our ideal candidate had already accepted summer employment on an upstate farm, and she did not feel it would be right to back out on a position she had already accepted. Sadly, we did not have another candidate in mind and decided to abandon the project and reconsider it in the future.

I think both community gardens are very important, especially in situations where they can serve a specific community. I prefer a communal growing approach when that’s feasible but a hybrid approach where individuals have their own plot but also help grow crops for the community.

In the long run, I suspect backyard gardening will be even more important for families that have the tiny amount of space needed to grow key elements of their own food.

Peter

Addendum: Back in 2011, the director of the Growing Hope program spoke at Lafayette College, and one of the amazing factoids she mentioned was that the WWII-era Victory Gardens were so successful that these backyard gardeners in the US grew almost half their food needs.

Gadfly learns about the Southside Garden Alliance

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Southside Garden Alliance Overview

Gadfly absolutely loves this job.

Mary Toulouse spends exactly 2:43 (less time than it takes for this morning’s tea and toast) at City Council May 19 pitching the idea of community gardens, and within a short time a whole new dimension of our town opened up to him.

Kim Carrell-Smith pointed Gadfly to Connor Burbridge, and in the meantime Breena Holland provided meaningful background and he also found Ken Raniere’s delightful article on this vegetable aspect of Southside history. Then Connor appeared with this valuable information below about the quite ambitious Southside Garden Alliance.

We look forward to Connor posting soon, but Gadfly invites you to read this detailed overview of the project with timeline beginning Winter 2019 and extending into 2021.

Southside Garden Alliance Overview

A timeline upon which no doubt the coronavirus has unfortunately left a mark.

Gardens 2

Southside Garden Alliance Overview

Mission: The Southside Backyard Gardens Alliance seeks to build community connections, increase community health, and advocate for environmental sustainability through the creation of community spaces and backyard gardens throughout South Bethlehem and through educational workshops, children’s camps, and community potlucks.

Vision: There are a number of urban agriculture projects on Bethlehem’s Southside, including the Southside Initiative’s MLK Garden and Esperanza Garden, as well as nascent gardens at the Lynnfield Community Center, Southside Permaculture Park, Victory House, and Hispanic Center. The Southside Backyard Gardens Alliance will act to help collaborate efforts between these projects as well as provide resources to help expand them. The Southside Backyard Gardens Alliance will provide resources and technical assistance to would-be community backyard gardeners and will aid in the construction of garden beds with involved community members. Rainwater barrels and container gardens can also be constructed and installed in community members’ yards. A tool library will be available for community members to begin their own projects or expand on existing ones. Master Gardeners will provide discussions on how to build and maintain healthy soil and healthy plants. Southside Arts District can help infuse local art into the events to increase engagement and promote local artists. Health and Nutrition experts from the community can provide information on healthy eating habits, and local chefs can teach creative ways to prepare various vegetables. Southside Backyard Gardens Alliance will host regular potlucks to build connections among community and conduct a dialogue on how we all can come together to better meet the community’s needs.

Wonderful project, wonderful people!

Add community oriented farms to the conversation

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Gadfly:

I had a second comment.  (cf. “Maintaining a community is harder than maintaining a garden“)

I think the distinction between community gardens and farms is important. Both are important. To me, a community garden is more about improving quality of life by giving people in cities a conveniently located place to dig in the dirt, grow a few plants, learn, play, and interact with neighbors. A community-oriented farm can provide some of those benefits but is scaled up (more land, equipment, paid staff) to provide a much more significant amount of food to the community. The Seed Farm in Emmaus is a good example. And then there are organizations like Rolling Harvest that focus on the distribution of food, which is the biggest need right now. Farmers are producing plenty of food to feed everyone in this country, but we need governmental and nonprofit leadership to get the food to the people.

Gray Simpson

A brief history of Southside gardens

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Tip o’ the hat to Mary Toulouse who kicked off this thread on community gardens by making a pitch for the City developing both short-term and longer term plans for the establishment of same.

Historically speaking, as this BAPL resource shows, there is more here than meets the current eye regarding gardens in South Bethlehem.

Bethlehem Area Public Library (Janine Santoro, Elizabeth Saraceno), “Digging into the Roots of South Side Gardening: Pre-World War I Immigrant Gardens and Today.”

The history of gardens in Bethlehem includes:

personal gardens (pre-WWI)

Depression gardens (1930s)

Victory gardens (1940s)

Thrift gardens (WWII)

The demise of backyard gardening (1950s-1960s)

pocket gardens (today)

“Today, the Southside Garden Alliance and Penn State Master Gardeners have shared their skills at the South Side Branch of Bethlehem Area Public Library free-of-charge to provide gardening workshops of all kinds to South Side patrons, and anyone else who wants to learn more about gardening right at home to create their own ‘backyard paradisos!'”

Ken Raniere’s “Backyard Paradiso” article in the “Southern Exposure” newsletter published by the South Bethlehem Historical Society and linked from the BAPL piece is delightful.

“Maintaining a community is harder than maintaining a garden”

Gadfly:

I’ve been gardening at Martin Luther King park on Carlton Avenue since I moved to Bethlehem in 2018. The garden was well organized at one time — a former president of Lehigh University was highly involved. A Lehigh professor was coordinating things when I arrived but had to leave shortly after, leaving just a small student group and a couple of community members to manage the site. Maintaining a community is harder than maintaining a garden.

Gray Simpson

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.

Gadfly:

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.

Breena

“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?