Plastic and Planting and Perennials, Oh My!

May 4, 2015 by

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We began our workday last weekend with a shopping spree. We are entering the beginning of finals so many of our members were busy studying or preparing for their honors exams, leaving three of us freshman alone with a perhaps undeserved amount of power and money in a Home Depot. I like to think we used it wisely, though we may have gotten a little over-excited in the face of so many seedlings. We came away with a lot of trowels, some kid-sized shovels, a 22-ft ladder (it was a Tetris-worthy challenge fitting it into the van) and a great deal of youthful fruit and vegetable plants.

When we arrived at the garden, Terrence was at the top of a ladder, ministering to the top of the hoop  house frame. Today was the day to put the plastic on top and turn the hoop house from a skeleton to a skeleton with a roof. This turned out to be a fairly labor-intensive but exciting process that involved climbing to the top of a slightly wobbly ladder, stretching the plastic tight and holding it down at the corners despite wind tossing it around, and mastering wiggle wire, which is used to sandwich the plastic into a groove on the top of the hoop house to secure it, in a simple but ingenious method. This done, and feeling very pleased with ourselves (despite Terrence having completely masterminded the entire thing), we hurried to plant all our seedlings before we had to bring the van back.

Many of the tomatoes and peppers that we had planted the week before had been bitten by frost, so we replaced some of them (though some have survived) and filled up some other beds that we hadn’t planted yet with more tomatoes, cucumbers, watermelon (exciting!), broccoli, kale, and some zucchini. We also finally were able to work out our water situation (at least temporarily), and were able to hook up our hose and water our seedlings.

We had been a little scant on kids that day, but the watering definitely attracted some helpers, particularly Ramaj, who used the hose like a champ and was able to show impressive self-control in only spraying us with very small quantities of water.

Spring at the Garden

April 19, 2015 by
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The hoop house

As we kick off our spring season at the garden, excitement is in the air (and mud is on the ground). Our connection with the Philadelphia organization Urban Tree Connection has brought us under the new management of Terrence Topping-Brown. Originally from nearby Upper Darby, after studying biology (and particularly plant science) at college, Terrence worked on an organic farm for six months, and now has been hired to come work on the garden full-time — that is, when he isn’t coaching track at the local high school. His presence and dedication are allowing the garden to grow in ways that would have been impossible with us college students only being able to work on the weekends. Terrence has big ideas for the garden — he has a seven part plan that involves planting an orchard, getting rid of invasive weeds and restoring the patch of woods at the back of the garden, furthering community engagement through programming, and much more.

These may sound like far-off goals, and Terrence is the first to admit that there is an incredible amount of work to be done, but there have already been some exciting changes — mainly, after some struggles with groundwater, the structure of the hoop house has finally been built! Once some plastic is thrown on, we will be well on our way to being able to sprout our very own seedlings in the garden. Terrence also expressed an interest in meeting with an engineering professor at Swarthmore to discuss how to use the hoop house and other structures to collect rain water.

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Our newly weed-free beds

Last week, we worked on preparing our many new beds (and some of the old ones) for planting by filling them with dirt. This was a pretty labor-intensive process that involved a lot of shoveling and moving around of heavy, dirt-filled wheelbarrows, but it was made much easier (and more fun) by the help of a lot of volunteers. We had several adult volunteers from a bank in West Chester, as well as 15 high school students, each of whom were paired with a student from the Chester middle school. Our helpers, both young and slightly less young, were unflaggingly enthusiastic and moved soil around like nobody’s business. We filled up all of our beds and reduced our enormous pile of dirt to almost nothing, as well as clearing away a lot of invasive reeds in the back of the garden. Some of the kids were so into the shoveling that they shoveled right through their lunch break, despite the fact that the volunteers had brought some truly delicious sandwiches (which, incidentally, they were kind enough to share with us sad, lunchless individuals staring on hungrily).

Once the volunteers left, we focused mainly on weeding and prepping the beds in the older part of the garden, which has now become known as the Children’s Garden. Some of the regular kids who live in the Bennett came to join us — our old friend TayQuan came by, and, true to form, found a lot of worms. Before we left we planted some pea seeds and discussed plans for the summer — excitingly, starting in June one of our members, Tyler Huntington, will be working at the garden with Terrence five days a week. All in all, a great day!

Fall! New beds, greens, and big plans!

January 20, 2015 by

Sorry we haven’t updated the blog in FOREVER, but it’s making a come-back!

There are a lot of exciting things going on at the garden right now and as we think into the future.

This past season we focused on gaining momentum and creating new ties with those in and outside the Bennett community.  We were joined by a few new Swarthmore students and were reunited with all the regular garden-frequenters from the Bennett.  Together with the CHA, we also joined forces with Urban Tree Connection (UTC), a non-profit organization that runs community gardens in West Philadelphia.

We had a slow beginning of the season because there wasn’t much going on over the summer, but we were able to plant and harvest some hearty fall and winter greens like broccoli, brussel sprouts, and kale.  The broccoli and sprouts didn’t quite reach maturity by the time frost hit, but the kale did awesome and we had lots of greens to share with Bennett residents!

 

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Digging

 

Posing

Posing

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Greens pictured behind bugs in a jar : )

Our culminating event was the Halloween-Pumpkin-Carving-Barbequing-Garden-Bed-Building-Party at the end of October.  Bennett residents, Swarthmore students, and our CHA and UTC partners gathered at the pavilion by the basketball courts for an afternoon of good work, food, and fun!  We had plenty of pumpkins to carve and delicious food to eat, only to be enjoyed after working hard to build new garden beds.  By the end of the five hours, we built twelve beds, carved twenty pumpkins, hauled – and climbed on – mountains of soil, and stuffed our bellies to the max with homemade mac&cheese, hot dogs, hamburgers, and salads all cooked by Bennett neighbors.  The day was a great way to enjoy the last of the warm fall days and to prepare for the spring with new beds for our continued growth.

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The CHA has hired UTC to significantly expand the garden and increase programming, which is really exciting.  The about 20 new beds that have been built behind the basketball court are the beginning of a vision of beds throughout the areas between the houses, fruit trees on the hill up to the highway, and other produce grown all around the Bennett.  There have been UTC staff around during the fall working with us and the kids, and we are looking forward to seeing them implement some of the programs they have been running on their farms, including potentially after-school activities, a program where kids can take complete responsibility for growing in their own bed, and a summer work program.

Over the cold winter months we will meet with UTC to further coordinate our spring and summer activities, especially the construction of our hoop-house so that we can get a jump start planting in early March!
Exciting things are happening at the garden and stay tuned for more information!

-EJ

 

 

A miniature harvest.

August 10, 2013 by

A miniature harvest.

A miniature harvest.

Obstacles and Rewards

August 10, 2013 by

If the first phase of the summer season could be characterized by careful cultivation, planting and weeding (at least in theory…), the second phase can only be described as a frenzied spurt of activity as the garden began, in late July through early August, to burst into life.

 

Perhaps most notably, the tomato plants unclenched their fruit as bright red and yellow flesh ignited through the green foliage. Someone told me, after sampling some sweet cherry tomatoes, that it was like eating sunshine. These moments amaze me; when nature, seemingly without prompting, yields true treasures: a word that isn’t chosen lightly. As more and more communities and households find themselves in food poverty, the simplicity of fruits and vegetables cultivated with one’s own hands, alongside one’s neighbors and friends, becomes a precious commodity as well as a sort of lost art.

 

Truly, foraging through leaves, stems and yes, most certainly some weeds, in search of a dazzling purple eggplant or a herculean zucchini feels a lot like a quest for treasure or an easter egg hunt. In a garden, there are rewards. This however, implies challenges; obstacles from which, I think, rewards derive their value.

 

The Bennett Homes Community garden, like any other, provides a fair share of challenges. Obviously there is the challenge of working the land in order to produce something, namely fruits or vegetables. Here, the payoff is literal and rendered in physical terms; you work hard and sweat, dirt, water and sunlight come together to produce our harvests. But the same equation applies to community building, albeit with different components which are less tangible and perhaps more elusive. In the latter case, though, hard work and a governing sense of cultivation are essential.

 

This summer, the garden workers in conjunction with the CHA and several community members and friends sought to rear a literal space—the garden—as well as figurative one, that of a growing, thriving community. The first steps have been to invite people in and to hire helpers from the community itself as a means of breaking down any perceived barriers. After all, the garden is not the possession of any one person or group of people, not even the workers or the CHA, but in fact is a shared place for people to mutually care for, together.

 

As we move forward, this message needs to be broadcasted more loudly and clearly. That it hasn’t been, is a failing on my part.

 

Now, we’re looking to integrate various facets and resources from the surrounding area, such as the Booker T. Washington Center where classes and community activities are regularly held, in order to construct a more comprehensive plan moving forward. We want to see how these parts and people can work in conjunction. At any rate, it’s an exciting time. There are more things growing and on the horizon looms the fall season.

Tomatoes

August 10, 2013 by

Tomatoes

tomato varieties

Into the Summer

August 6, 2013 by

Perhaps garden tasks can largely be broken down into three broad categories: maintenance, planting and teaching. Maintenance is the broadest and most time consuming of the three; it includes jobs such as weeding, watering, pruning and pest extermination. Where maintenance ensures that the garden is in good health, planting is what provides a garden in the first place. Furthermore, it allows kids (and adults) get their hands dirty and become more intimate with the Earth in a way that’s not necessarily a part of (sub)urban culture. This usually happens a few times a month, while maintenance is conducted daily. Lastly, teaching overlaps with all the jobs in the garden, but its structure depends on who is available. If there’s a large group, a lesson might be conducted on the given tasks which will be performed in that day. However, if only a few folks are around, things are demonstrated “organically”; as they come up.

These three categories underlie a more general goal for any summer garden; which is mostly a dual-pronged one. The garden should be a functioning, healthy and productive space where kids and any other interested community members can learn, develop and share basic gardening skills that will allow them to operate in the garden and perhaps take an interest in growing their own fruits and vegetables. These broader goals in turn gesture towards perhaps the greatest, broadest objective: to put “community” back into “community garden.”

To be sure, the garden even now, provides a wonderful source of education and nutrition to many individuals, especially children and seniors who frequently come and enjoy the space. If you stop by the Bennett Homes this summer, you’ll notice a team of individuals comprised of local college students and, more importantly, groups of young (and sometimes older) community members working against the weeds, in the sun, together. It’s a fun battle, one that’s very much in progress.

Fall Reflections

December 27, 2012 by

Fall at the garden this year has been all about sweet potatoes.  Everybody had tons of fun digging in the dirt to find the largest ones they could, and we filled a large basket many weeks in a row.  Just when we thought they had to be done, we found another whole basketful when we dug up the beds!

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We also had tomatoes (so many tomatoes!), peppers, and eggplant until mid-October, and those berry bushes we planted in the summer began producing the most delicious raspberries.  Every week, one of the first things we would do upon arriving to the garden was go look for the few ripe raspberries we could pick and eat immediately.

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We planted one more round of greens at the end of October, and by the beginning of December they were ready to harvest and by far the most amazingly tender, fresh, crisp, sweet kale and collards I have ever eaten.  All the neighbors who took them seemed to think so too, as it was easy to get rid of a large bag after knocking on only a few doors.

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At the end of November, we had our annual end-of-season pizza party, complete with decorate-your-own-certificate, mask-making, and pizza creating.  We had a pretty good turnout, with lots of old and new faces, and a lot of parents too!  Check out more pictures on our Flickr!

Chopping garden peppers

Chopping garden peppers

Everyone with their certificates!

Everyone with their certificates!

Masks

Masks

All in all we are very happy with how distribution has gone this fall.  Each week we have been able to give away nearly everything we harvested and people seem excited to be receiving the produce.  When people answer their doors, the likelihood they take vegetables is pretty high.  We’ve have had a number of great conversations with people about food they are going to make with the vegetables, or how happy they are to be receiving them because they are not otherwise able to obtain them. Looking toward the spring, we are hoping to build on this increase in interest and recognition in the immediate neighborhood of the garden by really kickstarting a regular distribution schedule.  We’re hoping to get some teens biking around the further reaches of the Bennett with our new BIKE CART! that looks something like this:august2

So our big project for the winter is getting some old bikes all fixed up and ready to go.  We’re hoping people will stop by to fix up their own bikes as well.  We’re all in the process of learning about bikes together, so if you know a lot feel free to give us some tips!

That’s all for now, we hope you all have nice holidays and enjoy the new year.  We’ll be back in the garden January 26th to work on bikes and do some arts and crafts!

-L

Back to the Summer Days

November 26, 2012 by

Though it’s now months past, we have yet to share updates from the end of the summer at the garden! The beginning of August was a great finish to summer camp full of tons of different activities. We spent some days talking about the food system, which included chalking out a huge map on the basketball court, tracing the path corn takes from a farm to the store shelf as popcorn. We used up some of our thousands of tomatoes to make our own pizzas for lunch one day in the community center, topping them with freshly picked peppers, basil, and zucchini from the garden.

One of the most popular craft projects we did was painting small pots and planting our own geraniums in them. We had some good conversations about how to best care for our plants, though many people left them behind at the garden for decoration.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our Bennett Homes Community Farm t-shirts also came in, which was a really exciting day! The back of the shirts say, “We grow our own,” and we spent the afternoon brainstorming a list of different things we grow in the garden. It was a great activity to stop and think about all the things that happen every day in the garden: growing food, friendships, self-confidence, beauty, fun, health, skills, our minds, and community. We had fabric markers so everyone could decorate the back of their shirts with whatever words or drawings they wanted, which was followed by a photo shoot with everyone wearing their shirts. For the rest of the day, you could spot garden people from far away in our electric green shirts.

brainstorming what we grow in the garden

personalizing our t-shirts!

One of the summer’s highlights was the Block Party we held in the garden after the last day of camp. We handed out invitations around the Bennett, hoping to bring in community members who have been involved in the garden in the past/present, as well as some new people. We had a pretty good turnout, especially from youth who haven’t come out to the garden frequently or at all. Some older kids from camp went around and surveyed adults who might be interested in receiving produce, to help us inform how our new produce distribution service will be organized (more news on this soon!). We also planted a ton of berry bushes in our empty beds and harvested and distributed tomatoes, peppers, basil, eggplant, and watermelon. It was a fun evening listening to music, working together in the garden, and meeting new people!

a truckload of berry bushes to plant

fresh-picked cherry tomatoes, eggplant, and purple peppers!

planting the berry bushes

Overall, we’re so happy with how the summer ended up. Rachel, Jesse, Blaine, Laura,  Thomas, and I got to work with such a wonderful group of kids, and it was awesome to be able to spend so much time at the garden every week! We’re so thankful for everyone who was involved with and supported camp.

Stayed tuned for another post soon with updates from the fall season (then hopefully we’ll be back on track and won’t fall so far behind again!). We’ve also uploaded new photos to our Flickr, so be sure to check that out too!

We hope everyone had a happy Thanksgiving!!

– T

NEW VIDEO

August 4, 2012 by

Made by Tyron Payne, an 18-year-old Cooperative member and Chester resident.


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