Author: Barbu, Ana
Date published: May 18, 2011
Aggie Lane, Lula Donald and Mary Jennings, who all live on the 300 block of Midland Avenue, have adopted and maintained 341 Midland Avenue Garden, a city-owned lot, for more than 13 years. The three women grow anything a groundhog doesn't eat, Lane says. "We used to plant all sorts of other things like beans and squash, even parsley, but groundhogs, they eat it right down. Even turnips, they just eat it right down. So we're learning what they don't."
The three consume the produce in their households, but also share red garlic, tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, and strawberries and raspberries with "a whole network of people." It includes other volunteers and neighbors who like particular produce.
When they need to replenish their gardening resources, they turn to their Syracuse Grows "garden buddy" Gregory Michel. "Before, we just found out who had a truck, and drove and tried to do it ourselves," Lane says. "If you're a Syracuse Grows member garden, which we are, they drop off a load of manure, which is really nice. Getting the compost, the manure, is one of the hardest things to do for a little community group."
The garden buddy program is Syracuse Grows' way to ensure the sustainability and productivity of new community gardens by fostering communication and resource sharing among gardeners. Board members have become garden buddies and will assist affiliated gardens. "The garden buddies go and work with them in the garden or connect with folks who have manure or seeds or shovels so we're really trying to build a capacity of the community to do that," Michel says.
Syracuse Grows is a grass-roots organization that has been supporting food justice or equitable access to healthy, safe, affordable quality and culturally appropriate food across the city since 2008. More information can be found on their website, syracusegrows.org. It's also an offshoot of the Syracuse Hunger Project, which is a collaboration among Syracuse University's department of geography and emergency food providers in the community, including the Samaritan Center, which has been instrumental in tracing the city's hunger landscape and sources of emergency food, says founding member Evan Weissman.
He and other founding members had attended a workshop directed by the New York state Department of Agriculture and Markets at SUNY New Paltz. "We went to this statewide meeting of people interested in food issues, specifically urban agriculture and community gardens from around the state, so Buffalo, Westchester, Albany, Binghamton, Poughkeepsie and many people from New York City," Weissman reports. "Then, we started to sort of think about what we needed to do here in Syracuse and shortly after the workshop in the summer of 2008, we formally started Syracuse Grows."
For instance, gardeners at Lipe Art Park garden at West Fayette Street, between West and South Geddes streets, have harvest produce for local food pantries since 2009. "All the gardens are autonomous, but we work with them," Michel says. "Lipe Park garden is a food pantry garden, so everything we grow is donated to local food pantries. A lot of the gardens are located in lower income areas where there are food security issues for the gardeners. They are reaching out to their neighbors to be able to grow stuff and share with the neighbors."
Additionally, Syracuse Grows organizes activities that promote community gardening, including the third annual Spring Resource Drive held in April, provided a gardening tools exchange for community gardeners and set the basis of the Southwest Urban Community Farm, 100 Bellevue Ave.
"What we're trying to do is to actually follow the needs of the community gardens," Weissman notes. "We've asked all of the community gardens throughout the city of Syracuse to provide us with a wish list, so that we know specific resources needed." During the past two resource drives, people were building their community gardens. "We needed a lot of everything, particularly a lot of lumber and a lot of soil," Weissman said. "Now that gardens are established, people are looking for more specific items."
The organization also enables refugees from war-struck areas of the world to ease their transition into their new lives in Syracuse. Many come from rural regions and are skilled in gardening and harvesting techniques. They have the opportunity to resume these occupations at the Somali-Bantu Garden, 623 Oneida St., and Karibu Garden, Catawba and North Townsend streets, founded last year, as well as the Highland Park Garden, Highland Place and Beecher Street, and Isabella Street Tapestry Garden, 127 Isabella St., both created in 2009.
Syracuse Grows maintains a symbiotic relationship with the city where this effort is concerned. "We work closely with the city and it's a reciprocal relationship," Weissman said. "We contact them when we need their support, and they've been very supportive of our work."
City of Syracuse land use planners Katelyn Wright and Luke Dougherty attended Syracuse Grows' annual public meeting in March and highlighted the city's involvement in community gardens. "People were coming to us and asking if they could garden on city lots and we wanted to figure out how do we make that process easier and more predictable," Wright says. "There's so much land. We like to see people take it on and take ownership, make it more of an asset to the community than a liability."
A not-for-profit organization, Syracuse Grows lives on donations and grants. "We're 3 years old and last year, our budget was a little over $7,000," Michel says. "We've had small grants, we've gone to local companies and gardening stores that might provide us with a few hundred dollars here, a thousand dollars there. Some of the local supermarkets have given us donations so we can have food at events like this."
This year's resource drive was funded by a "What If..." mini-grant from the Gifford Foundation, which will fill gaps in community donations. Other organizations, including High Mowing Organic Seeds and America the Beautiful, donated seeds to Syracuse Grows' member gardens. Meanwhile, Grindstone Farm in Pulaski has provided seedlings, the New York State Dairy Association will supply the gardens with manure, Onondaga County Resource Recovery Agency and the Syracuse Department of Parks, Recreation and Youth Services will supply the compost, and water access is courtesy of the Department of Water.
"Really, we want to help people who want to help themselves," Michel says. "Community gardening for food security issues, for neighborhood revitalization issues, for health reasons, so we've worked with existing gardens, we've helped a lot of folks from the refugee community starting up gardens, we know there's a demand for this so we're really trying to leverage resources for that to happen."
Syracuse Grows' upcoming event is their free monthly Library Farm class hosted in collaboration with Edible Gardening CNY is scheduled for Saturday, June 18, at 10:30 a.m. at Northern Onondaga Public Library, 8686 Knowledge Lane, Cicero. The lecture will feature Gary Beirne, who will speak on herbs, bring recipes and offer some items to taste. For more information, call 699-2534.