Please join us on Facebook, where Southside Community Gardens now has an account. Just use the badge on the right margin of this page, which is linked to our account, and add us as a “friend.”  I will be happy to accept your request.  If you do not already have a Facebook account, you will need to follow the quick and easy steps to create one using your e-mail address and a password of your choice.  Along with this blog and our recently created Twitter account (also linked to the right), our Facebook page will enable us to stay connected to other members in our group, to establish relationships with similar organizations, and to keep people updated about the work we are doing on Bethlehem’s southside.  We also hope that members of our group and our growing community of friends will use these resources to contribute their comments about our ongoing projects, to share information about other items of interest, and to let each other know what they are up to.

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The Southside Community Gardens group met on Monday, November 23, at 7 p.m. in Room 101, Maginnes Hall, on the Lehigh University campus.  Working from mid-November’s American Community Gardening Association seminar, we worked on, among other things, the informational meetings for different neighborhoods in the Southside and reciprocal relationship maps in pulling together budgets for the garden projects.  Also, Terry Stout showed us the logos he has been working on for our signage and brochure and the like; and Southside showings (including at Northampton Community College) of the documentary film “The Garden” were discussed.

The Southside Community Gardens group met on Monday, October 26th, at 7 p.m. to finalize plans for our important upcoming community meetings and to discuss showing the award-winning documentary “The Garden” at these informational meetings, and at local community centers, in order to generate interest in our project.

Hi All,

I’m writing to summarize the discussion and decisions from the Southside Community Gardens group meeting, held Tuesday, Oct. 13th.

First, though, I want to mention that some of us saw, in mid-October, the most riveting of documentary films, “The Garden” (2006; www.thegardenmovie.com), a complex and beautiful story about some 347 Latino/Latina families who worked a 14 ½-acre community garden in South Central Los Angeles.  It was inspiring, and made our project, as ambitious as it is, look quite possible and all the more worth pursuing.  Things are happening here, and there’s more in the making.  And it comes from us–now–and our directed creative energy.  After the film, in discussion, you should have heard the wonderful answers to a 10-year-old boy’s sensible question as to why the urban farmers, when told they’d lose their gardens, didn’t just go somewhere else and start planting there.

On to updates:

We’ve got a bead on soil testing, with a Lehigh lab being able to deliver a “suite of data” on our different sites for a reasonable price.  A number of people insisted that we gather samples from different parts of each proposed garden site.  Chiharu Tokura will help direct the soil tests.

We spent the better part of the meeting discussing ways to organize neighborhood meetings that will introduce residents to Southside Community Gardens project, and encourage commitment and work next spring.  An organizational structure is evolving for this key community-outreach stage.  We spoke about planning one initial informational meeting for each of the three sites that need the most organizing:  Ullman Park, Roberto Clemente Park, and the Maze Garden.  We then put together the beginnings of three teams–one for each of these sites, whose primary responsibility will be to mobilize neighborhood interest in a community garden.  This is who we have so far:

Ullmann : Ann Evans and Tito Rivera
Maze: Cyndy and Ken Hasz, and Nikki
Roberto Clemente:  Tito Rivera, and Chris Barttleson will be contacting the head of the Bethlehem Housing Authority to identify a meeting site.
Martin Luther King, Jr. Park.: Jason Slipp is taking charge.

In addition, Lauren Fuhry, Lou Cinquino, Chiharu Tokura, Terry Stout, and John Pettegrew will work on 1) a short illustrated presentation to make about the benefits of community gardens; and 2) flier-pamphlet material and signage for the Southside Community Gardens.

As to the content of the meetings, most people suggested not trying to do too much too soon; the first meetings should be informational, social, and fun.  Lou Cinquino recently offered some variations on this plan.  I quote them at length here; they draw from his extensive work in New York community gardens projects; and they’ll be a starting point for our discussions of how to create a groundswell of interest in our project.

Lou writes:

As I was thinking more about where we are at with the project, I’m thinking maybe the first meeting is really more of an information and inspiration meeting–keep it light to see who’s interested and engage the community in the benefits and pleasures of community gardening.  Then plan on having a more detailed follow-up meeting later, to support design with people who are the most interested.  Also, maybe this meeting is held in several locations around the Southside, in tandem with any natural sponsor we find.  Think about it this way: what if we had, say, 3-4 pairs of presenters that each presented this twice. That would enable us to reach 6-8 different groups in order to build up critical mass.  We could put together something reasonably structured, short and to the point, with the emphasis on inspiration.  Rather than a couple of deep, lengthy meetings, we could do a larger number of shorter meetings to build interest and grow the grassroots.

For example, we could have a Maze Garden/Ullman Park informational meeting at Broughal; this makes the most sense to me.  That way you can try to get to critical mass of enough attendees, and the location would seem to me (admittedly an outsider) as convenient since that is the school that serves both neighborhoods.  So that meeting (and any in other nearby locations) could talk about both projects–the existing gardens and the newly proposed locations.  Maybe we could even do one at the Banana Factory to the artist community and people who go there for classes, and also any Southside institution where groups of people regularly gather.

While I’ve used the NYRP approach to guide my thoughts, I’m starting to understand the biggest difference: the emphasis they use on visioning and design is critical because they are talking about building a huge investment in a neighborhood, and the money is all lined up and ready to build, so they have interested parties and engaged neighborhoods.  Since these are going into corners of existing parks, the footprint is much smaller, so visioning is still important for us, but I’m getting the feeling that building interest is probably the biggest challenge starting out.

Another part of our job now is to line up experts who can advise on possible locations for the gardens in the parks so that we can discuss them at the meetings tangibly and start to find the natural sponsors who can help us build interest and enroll gardeners, both in the new gardens and the Maze Garden.  We present and gather feedback, perhaps get a preliminary budget and construction schedule for each garden together, and try to raise the necessary funds to do it.  (A rough budget we did for SUN*LV for an 8-bed garden is around $20,000, but we’ll have to look at that more closely to see if it’s relevant for these proposed sites.)

Also, will you or someone else give presentations on the Southside Community Gardens project at these movies you are planning to show to the community?  That would be a good venue.  We should also probably have a general interest flyer (in English and Spanish) that can circulate on the Southside, and to social agencies, to reach people who might be interested.

At the first meeting we can maybe get it done in one hour, and maybe it goes something like:

1) Why are you/we here?  What interests you about community gardening?  (10 minutes)

2) Benefits of Community Gardening: a video clip, followed by a short summary of the benefits to health and neighborhoods, and then a talk from existing gardeners.  (30 minutes)

3) Hopes and Dreams: what are your wishes for a community garden in this location– both to new and existing locations?  (20 minutes)

4) Sign Up/Questions.  We need gardeners as well as people who can help organize and guide the community in creating the new sites, and supporting the existing gardens.  What can we do to get more people in this community interested?  (approximately 10 minutes)

Southside Community Gardens people, feel free to comment about this dynamic and absolutely critical stage of building community interest.

Thanks,

Lou

In a related point, I’ve been in preliminary touch with the Bethlehem Area School District about partnering with schools and students in community gardening.  Dean Donehar, head of student programs, is very enthusiastic about this opportunity and, among other ideas, encouraged me to focus on Broughal Middle School.  The new building has a greenhouse and an ongoing Recycling Project and Environmental Club.   I recently wrote to Joseph Santoro about working together and hope to hear back from him shortly.

Finally, Sustainable Urban Neighborhoods of the Lehigh Valley (www.sunlv.org) hosted a two-day seminar offered by the American Community Gardening Association on Nov. 14th and 15th at Lehigh University.  Several members of the Southside Community Gardens group were able to attend the seminar, where they learned about tools, such as reciprocal relationship maps, which will prove helpful in our work.  To learn more: www.communitygarden.org.

Hope to see you soon, John Pettegrew (Associate Professor or History & Director of the South Side Initiative, Lehigh University)

On October 21 Lehigh University’s South Side Initiative sponsored a screening of “The Garden” (www.thegardenmovie.com), an Academy Award-nominated documentary.  Several members of the Southside Community Gardens group attended this screening and participated in the engaging discussion which followed the showing of the film.  Watching “The Garden” proved to be a significant moment for the Southside Community Gardens group, providing both direction and inspiration for the work we are trying to do on the southside of Bethlehem.

ABOUT THE FILM:
The 14-acre community garden at 41st and Alameda in South Central Los Angeles is the largest of its kind in the United States. Started as a form of healing after the devastating L.A. riots in 1992, the South Central Farmers have since created a miracle in one of the country’s most blighted neighborhoods. Growing their own food. Feeding their families. Creating a community.

But now, bulldozers are poised to level their 14-acre oasis.

The Garden follows the plight of the farmers, from the tilled soil of this urban farm to the polished marble of City Hall. Mostly immigrants from Latin America, from countries where they feared for their lives if they were to speak out, we watch them organize, fight back, and demand answers:

Why was the land sold to a wealthy developer for millions less than fair-market value? Why was the transaction done in a closed-door session of the L.A. City Council? Why has it never been made public?

And the powers-that-be have the same response: The garden is wonderful, but there is nothing more we can do?

If everyone told you nothing more could be done, would you give up?

http://www.thegardenmovie.com

Please join us at 7:30 Tuesday evening for a meeting of the South Side Initiative Community Gardens group. We’ll be meeting at 7:30 p.m. in room 105, Maginnes Hall, on the Lehigh University campus. Directions to the building may be found here.

Green thumbs not required–all are welcome!

This Friday, First Friday at the Maze Garden, food, music, information and discussion about community gardening and the  well-being of the Maze Garden itself.

Next Friday, September 11th, Green the Block:  4-6pm, neighborhood cleanup–meet at the Maze Garden; and 6-9 pm, barbecue, Hip Hop DJ, and open mike at the Banana Factory.