Garden space grows more than vegetables
EASTON — Along a small strip of asphalt on Jowite Street in Easton, there is a community garden that is flourishing with more than vegetables.
The garden offers a sense of community, fellowship and a chance for people in the area to feel as if they belong to something here.
“We are trying to galvanize the community around something,” Aleya Fraser said. “Even though this space isn’t permanent, and we are just getting started — but after a few weeks of people coming out, I think it will definitely last.”
Fraser heads up the proj-
ect and said she is a farmer, community organizer and educator.
Several organizations have joined forces to bring this garden to fruition. The lot itself is owned by BAAM, and Dock Street Foundation is funding Fraser and the garden.
Much of the care and work put in to the garden is done by youth from the Chesapeake Multicultural Resource Center Girl Scouts Group and children from Building African American Minds, or BAAM.
“We are kind of building the cart and the horse at the same time,” Fraser said. “Community gardens can either start with the community saying we want one or
someone else saying lets put one here and get an investment.”
She said her group is the latter.
“It has been a slow start,” Fraser said, “Finding the right partnerships and reaching out to as many youth groups as possible.”
Estela Ramirez, outreach coordinator for the Multicultural Resource Center, said she brings her Girl Scout group every Wednesday to work in the garden and participate in the education portion.
She said she heard about the project at a meeting she attended and was excited to join.
“We had always wanted to find a project where the kids and our population will feel more comfortable,” Ramirez said. “And to have a feeling that they belong there, and this is it.”
The ground along the asphalt strip was tilled in April, and the planting began in May.
Fraser said the community of Jowite Street has welcomed the garden and even helps to care for it.
“We have one neighbor who waters it every morning,” Fraser said. “It’s been a really good reception. The more that I am out here, the more they realize its not just my thing, it’s for everyone.”
The garden has been planted with cucumbers, squash, corn, scallion, herbs, tomatoes, peppers, sweet potatoes and some exotic plants, including a variety of squash from the Caribbean and carailli, a bitter melon from Trinidad.
It will continue to produce throughout summer and into fall, with winter squash like pumpkins and butternuts.
“I have materials to put insulation over the beds, basically with hoops and plastic,” Fraser said. “With supplies like that, we can keep cranking for a while.”
Ramirez said on the first day the girls ran to a pile a shovels and began to just dig the dirt.
“That was their first activity,” Ramirez said. “And they loved it. When we started coming, it was kind of empty. Now everything is like — wow — it’s really growing.”
She said the girls help to clean up, harvest and weed the garden.
“The kids are eager to do something different,” Ramirez said. “They are engaged and like to learn, and they were amazed to find out how certain vegetables grow. ‘Oh, radishes grow on the ground, and scallions, so that’s what they look like.’ It has been amazing watching them relate to things.”
She said the kids do not have gardens at home right now, but gardening comes natural to them.
“This is our nature,” Ramirez said. “We saw that the first day. It’s natural.”
Fraser said she still is seeking help and would love to have some teenagers who are looking to earn service learning hours to aid in the project.
Every Wednesday, there is an education portion supported by the Dock Street Foundation.
“The lessons have been fluid and flexible,” Fraser said. “We have done lesson plans on how plants grow and the importance of labor. I am trying to expand our lessons as we go.”
On Wednesday, July 27, Jonathan Williams, from BAAM, conducted a meditation and mindfulness program involving music. Each child was given an instrument and taught to go along with the beat.
Following the lesson and gardening, Fraser provides a snack for the group and a tea made from herbs in the garden.
“I am always amazed how easy it is to get kids to try vegetables from the garden,” Fraser said. “At home, they will say no. But here, they just pick it, and it’s cool.”
Fraser said soon the garden will expand to the other side of the asphalt strip and will serve as place for parents and other adults in the community to grow things, as well.
“One garden is for youth and education and for the community,” Fraser said. “So if someone wants a bed, they can have a bed.”
Ramirez said in the adult side of the garden, there will be a spot set aside for herbs and vegetables that are not typically seen in America but are used widely in Guatemala — specifically, a herb called chipilin, which is considered a staple in Guatemalan cuisine.
“We have a large Guatemalan population here,” Ramirez said. “We want to incorporate that into this garden.”
“We have big ideas, and getting the community more aware through outreach and letting them know that this is for all, for us, is important,” Ramirez said. “And we want the kids to be exposed this learning process.”
Daniela Vasquez, 10, of Easton is one of the many kids who help tend to the garden. She said her favorite part is the harvesting.
“It’s fun. I love digging them up and picking,” Daniela said. “My favorite part is harvesting them.”
Daniela said they want everyone to know they can come to the garden and harvest some of the food or help out.
“We sit down at the picnic table and talk about how we can make more people come to garden,” Daniela said.
Ramirez said just last week they were brainstorming on how to get more people involved to make the garden sustainable.
Two Saturdays ago, Ramirez said, the group took their fruits of their labor to the Easton Farmers Market to sell and to help get the word out about the project. She said they also took produce from Talbot Mentors’ garden and tomatoes that had been donated by local gardeners.
“It was pretty good,” Fraser said. “We had a good reception, and we did really well.”
This week, they will have peppers, green tomatoes, cucumbers, herbs such as basil and chocolate mint, and scallions.
The proceeds of the market will go directly back into the garden to buy supplies and seeds, and to the youth staff who work the market that day.
If anyone is interested in learning more about the garden or buying some of the produce, Fraser encourages people to come out to the Easton Farmers Market Saturday, July 29, to check out their booth. Follow me on Twitter
Aleya Fraser teaches children how to harvest peppers.
Rosalyn Perez, 9 of Easton enjoys a fresh-picked tomato from the community garden on Jowite Street in Easton.
Jonathan Williams of Building African American Minds conducts a meditation and mindfulness program using music Wednesday, July 26, at the Jowite Street community garden in Easton.