The biggest success was we had tons of rain that came at the right time. I got many native pollinators planted at the right time. I was advised by Chesapeake Bay Foundation Grassroots Outreach coordinator, Carla Johns, as to what types of plants to use. These plants help out our new honey bee hive, (supplied by Jeremy Barnes, head of the York County Beekeepers Association, and winner of last year’s Pennsylvania Beekeeper award.) We planted pollinators that not only help our new bees, they feed local and migrating butterflies, and also local and migrating bird life. I planned this on purpose. I had the first ever Summer Garden Camp, in our city, EVER. I had kids come weekly from the local schools, and we moved dirt and found worms and named them. We put fish in our new fish pond and named them as well. We have an outdoor book library and it’s surrounded by flowers full of bees. The library is full of books on bees. I’m right along the route of kids going back and forth to school, and kids stop each day and get and return books. We are full on bee crazy. I have several volunteer groups of both teenage and college age students. Several mental and and chemically dependent recovering groups as well. The garden serves as both a therapeutic and arts and educational and food generation location. We are going to have our first ever york city garden conference inside this garden, so people and city representatives can learn more about how we can replicate our urban garden ideas and customize them to accommodate different locations, with different challenges. We are covered in bees. We love it. There are many groups and people who extend an offer to help, and some actually follow through. At this point, we have tripled our amount of produce from last year. What we grow goes to the local volunteers. What is harvested and doesn’t go home with them to be eaten, cooked, frozen or canned, gets donated to 3 different food handling organizations (non profit food banks) that distribute food to the locals. The York Food Bank, the Catholic Harvest, and Lifepath Christian Ministries. There are also groups that want to have gardens put into their areas, and I’m working around the clock to do so. I’m also part of a new group that wants to start putting in Gardens all over york. My day starts at 4 am and ends at 10 pm. I know I was supposed to get this to you earlier but I’m pretty dog gone busy. I love what I do. I bet you hear that a lot. I’m also doing the zoning paperwork so we can get solar put on the shed (I’m doing that, myself, because we don’t have electricity. We also didn’t have water, until I got a jackhammer and went a little crazy on an old concrete filled pit and put on new pipes and a spigot. The garden is right by a park and two elementary schools, so I’m also putting in a “Codorus Creek critter crosswalk” arts crosswalk across our roads, because people drive through there like a freaking racetrack and someone’s going to get killed crossing the street there one day. This garden and these flowers are just one way of “fixing” and area and making the garden a local gathering point for good health for both people and nature.
What challenges did or does your project face?
The garden space this grant helped, (once a thriving area garden, started 20 years ago, and neglected for a good 10 years prior to my appearance) is in an area I generalize as a broken, thrown away area, and is populated by broken, thrown away people. I’m not kidding. People live in some horrific conditions. The area is basically one third white, one third African-American and one third Hispanic. It’s about one half owned and one half rented. The older houses are NOT in good condition. This area doesn’t see anything repaired, or new or beautiful very often. Garbage blows around quite a bit. There’s a lot of crime. There are many older senior citizens, with iffy health conditions. The adults all work, generally third shift. They come home, get the kids to school, get some sleep and then go off to another job. Come home, get kids from school, eat, nap, and go off to work again. In the summer, the kids basically raise themselves. I provide a place for the kids to come and hang out, I have them paint bird houses. We plant stuff, we water plants. We eat tomatoes and hot peppers and cucumbers and when the peaches are ripe, it’s simply amazing how much we can eat. Those are really delicious. When it’s really hot, we water. Most of it even gets onto the plants, which is good. Giving custody of a running hose to a 10 year old is a brave thing. I won’t lie to you, some of the plants I had put in this spring, were ripped out of the ground. I was cranky when I saw this, and just went, bought more and replanted them. Then the very next day, all the stolen plants were found outside the garden fence, piled up nicely. I dug new holes, put those in, and watered them. They recovered. When I saw the plants returned, I KNEW we would succeed. The plants outside the garden fence is another challenge. Those were repeatedly removed, and tossed around. The neighbors would make a habit of finding the plants tossed in the street, on roof tops, thrown just anywhere. They would all pick them up, and sort of shove them back in the holes they found. I wish to heck these vandals would have ripped out the old weeds the same way they went after those new flowers. I have a Facebook page for each garden I run, and I would receive messages on a daily basis. I then know to have volunteers really water that hastily replanted area well. I posted pictures on Facebook about how those plants were planted by the local school kids, and the vandalism stopped. It took a month and a half. Some plants NEVER came back. I make sure we wash off the sidewalk well, so dirt doesn’t get tracked into peoples hoses. I made sure they KNEW THIS. I don’t live in that area. I see that neighboorrhood more then I see my own. It’s my second year there, and I’m there quite often and people have come to know I am dependable. I put in three garbage cans on site to have people put their stuff into, and I empty it once a week. Everyone once in awhile someone empties their household garbage into it and I have to chew them out. I drive it home 10 miles so my own garbage guys will pick it up and take it back into York city. Since we are not a residence or a business garbage won’t come pick it up.
How are you working to overcome them?
I constantly talk and engage with people. But I don’t quit. I now serve on several groups and boards for cleaning up the city, getting garbage out and plants in (I get a tetanus shot once a year), I promote good health through food, and through bees (I travel with Epi pens) and I speak at our local fair and lecture kids and local townships and community groups. I speak with those who also want urban gardens put in. I usually help them put in gardens (specializing in above ground straw bale gardens, since our city is 300 years old. York city is America’s first Capitol. We have a lot of garbage in our soil, Lead paint, broken glass, illegal dumping, etc.) Each opportunity I get a to teach or instruct people how to do it themselves, I do. I’m on the ground floor of a urban gardening movement in my town. When ever people say it can’t be done, I just think to myself “boy, I’m going to show you!” And I work harder. This city was burned in the race riots of the 1960’s and in many ways, the town and its now much older people, never recovered. It’s getting to a point now where new blood is coming in, with fresh ideas, and there is improvement. However, inherited attitudes still persist, and I am in a York every day, laboring to make it beautiful. Proof = belief. This is about far more then planting pollinators flowers and Bringing in new natural life. It’s a living, breathing, edible movement to change the perception of an area that has existed for over half a century. It’s impossible to plant things without politics becoming a part of it. Plants require ground. Ground requires perceptions of territory, and ownership and caretaking. Who possesses what, and who goes without. The land my gardens are on, are owned by the local RDA.. the Redevelopment Authority of York. The Cottage Hill Garden can never be developed, since it sits on top of an ancient sinkhole. Collapsed houses lie underneath the garden, some dating back to buildings present since the American Revolution. We have a long history, and a long way to go to improve polluted soil and negative opinions. I strive to do this each day I work in the gardens, work with kids, and talk with the neighborhood.
What did you or your project learn this season that might be useful to others as well?
Always replant. Always let the neighborhood know it is THEIR garden. Make sure you cram their kids full of vegetables and books and tell them to come and pick. Tell them everything is free, it’s organic (that means expensive, and great for people with health problems). Make sure there are no weeds, no trash and it looks decent and have a doggie water dish out for the neighbors pets. I take the people into the garden shed and show them the bee hive and they are amazed. I tell them they are 4 feet away from 80,000 bees and the bees want nothing to do with them. Unless they are a flower, they bees aren’t interested. They LOVE it. I make sure they know no other neighborhood in York has a garden like this. I know this is a very long message and I know it’s overdue, but honestly, when I had flowers ripped out constantly, I didn’t know if this was even going to be a grant I could claim had been given a chance at succeeding. Everything is now well rooted and thriving and I have great chances for success in future years. It’s affecting a lot of people, every day, in a positive way.