Gar­den space grows more than veg­eta­bles

The Star Democrat - - FRONT PAGE - By DENAE SPIERING dspier­ing@ches­pub.com

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

@Dspier­ing617

PHO­TOS BY DENAE SPIERING

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.

PHOTO BY DENAE SPIERING

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.

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