Harlem's Flourishing Community of Gardeners

I recently had the pleasure of visiting four different community gardens in Harlem. Each one has its roots deep in the GreenThumb initiative, but once established, they were shaped over time to reflect the character and agenda of their leading volunteers. With Larry Scott Blackmon, the Deputy Commissioner for Community Outreach, streamlining the community garden process politically and legislatively, and with Edie Stone, Director of GreenThumb, overseeing the needs and desires of each garden, the community gardens are given every opportunity to flourish.

First stop was the Clayton Williams Garden run by Richard Washington, the new active president.  This community garden has been up and running for 20 years now, 15 under the previous president Ms. Loretta Welcom. I met both Richard and Loretta, as they welcomed me into their space, excitedly showing me their peach, cherry, pear, and apple trees that were all provided by GreenThumb.

When I inquired about their involvement in the community, they promptly brought out a photo album of events and healthy living educational sessions with children's groups held at their garden. They were also very proud to say that any family or community member strolling by is welcome to their produce, free of charge. All they have to do is ask.

I then walked down the street to the William B. Washington Memorial Garden headed by Gwen Kingsberry.  This garden has also been open for 20 years now, and hosts events including one for Halloween. Gwen explained to me, with a big smile on her face, that her garden is sustained entirely with rain water that is collected from the roof of the church next door. It falls onto the roof, down the gutter, and into a collection tank where the volunteers are able to use it as they need it. Gwen also expressed how there is an abundance of crops that the public is welcome to.

My next stop was at Our Little Green Acre run by Willy Morgan, a man who had at one time cooked for Muhammad Ali. Willy boasts a very interesting crop selection such as cotton, stevia (a natural sweetening herb), and the one world's hottest known peppers, the tepin. As with the other gardens, will is very open to outsiders and welcomes people to visit his garden to share in its bounty.

Finally, I visited the Joseph Daniel Wilson Garden run by Cindy and Haja Worley. Less focused on crop quantity, they are bee keepers and berry cultivators. Cindy offered me some of her homemade mulberry preserves as she showed me around her shady escape from the city. Working with the CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), Cindy and Haja have teamed up with schools to provide families with access to healthy foods without the middle-man. They have also put forth efforts to help small, local farms, with most recently, raising $1500 for Claudio Gonzalez, a NY farmer hit hard by the recent hurricane.

As much reading as I have done about the potential community farms and gardens have in bettering their surrounding area, it was quite an amazing experience to put faces to the effort of creating a healthier, more accessible world. These gardens are but a few examples of strong community focus and the incredible impact small groups can have on the whole.

For more information on these gardens and others, click here.

Photos: Cyndi Amaya

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