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Food and friendships grow in community gardens

The Maze Garden is serving as a source of inspiration to expand the number of community gardens on Bethlehem's South Side.

Driving through Bethlehem’s South Side, it might be easy to miss the Maze Garden tucked between buildings near the intersection at Third and New Streets.

But this tiny oasis, nestled in the concrete neighborhood, is thriving with native trees, flowers and produce such as lavender, organic eggplant and tomatoes, basil and lemon balm. The Maze Garden is tended by a small group of devoted gardeners and has brought fresh produce to neighbors and community organizations since 2007.

Now the Maze Garden, like countless community gardens that have sprung up in urban communities, is serving as a source of inspiration for the South Side Community Gardens—a project that aims to strengthen the ties of the South Side community through the growth of healthy, sustainable food.

Lehigh’s South Side Initiative (SSI), along with city planners, community organizers, Lehigh faculty and staff, and gardeners of all levels are joining together with the hopes of creating a sequence of small produce gardens on Bethlehem’s South Side that would allow members of the community to learn gardening skills, tend to the plots, and reap the rewards of harvest.

“This idea comes in part from the long-standing interest in adding gardens to the South Side’s new Greenway linear park,” says John Pettegrew, co-director of the SSI and associate professor of history. “With the economic crisis, the local food and urban farming movement, and the ongoing local efforts at the Maze Garden, Martin Luther King Park, and elsewhere, a larger-scaled, multi-staged enterprise is viable and compelling.”

The community garden at Martin Luther King Park on Carlton Avenue was dedicated as part of the Family Day of Service that Lehigh held in April 2007 to mark the inauguration of Alice P. Gast as the university’s 13th president. It features 15 plots used by a mix of Lehigh students, faculty and staff, and people from the community.

“It was a great partnership between Lehigh University, the City of Bethlehem, Rodale Inc., and many volunteers,” says Dale Kochard, assistant vice president of community and regional affairs, who helped develop the garden. “It's more about the community than it is the garden.”

Organizers of the expanded program are still early in the planning process, but hope to secure gardening locations in time for a spring planting in March 2010. Volunteers are hoping to spark interest among the community by gathering at the Maze Garden on Friday, Sept. 4, to celebrate First Friday with food, music and information on gardening resources and plots. Plots of the Maze Garden will also be distributed to new South Side gardeners through a lottery taking place at that time.

“The South Side is so ready for community gardens. There is a wonderful diversity of ethnic cultures which express themselves through its food,” says Cyndy Hasz, who with her husband Ken, tend the Maze Garden. “We have met many friendly South Side residents over these two years and heard their stories about how they grew up on their grandpa's farm, or how their mom used to garden where she lived before but doesn't have any garden here and misses fresh turnip greens. So not only do community gardens grow food they grow friendships and story sharing and a feeling of belonging to a place.”

The following Friday, Sept. 11, the SSI will join the Hip Hop Caucus, All Eyes management, GMI FIST Group, LLC, and the City of Bethlehem in “Green the Block,” a partnership between Green for All and the Hip Hop Caucus to educate and mobilize low-income communities and communities of color to ensure a voice and stake in the clean-energy economy.

In conjunction with President Obama’s designation of the day as a National Day of Service, volunteers will lend a hand to cleanup various sections of the South Side from 4 to 6 p.m. Following the cleanup, volunteers are encouraged to gather for a barbecue with a Hip Hop DJ and Open Mike at the Banana Factory’s East Terrace.

While organizational details are still being worked out, the SSI is eager to get potential gardeners on board. To gauge further interest in the community gardening project, volunteers will meet with South Side residents in late September, explaining the resources and opportunities available to them in spring.

“Community gardening is something this university could contribute to in terms of curriculum, expertise, research and human power,” Pettegrew says. “This could benefit the university, the students and the residents of the South Side. There’s a wonderful environment for this to grow and happen.”

For more information, or to take part in the planning process for the South Side Community Gardens, contact John Pettegrew at jcp5@lehigh.edu or Christianne Gadd at cag6@lehigh.edu.

--Tricia Long


Posted on Thursday, September 03, 2009

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