More than veggies Organizers hope to grow produce and community with South Side garden

New Castle News – Ken Rice planted more than vegetables when he spearheaded the creation of the Lower East Side Community Garden in 2017.

He also sowed the seeds of neighborhood involvement.

Rice and the Lower East Community Garden Group, with the backing of multiple partner organizations, now looks to transplant his concept to the South Side. They got together Saturday with residents and a few city officials to announce upcoming clean-up days and to propose a second community garden on the former site of the Pollock Avenue School.

The school stood between Home and Friendship streets from 1905 to 1970, when it was razed after being closed two years earlier.

The lots have remained empty since then. Rice purchased the land and sold it to DON Services, where he is employed, under the condition that it be used as a community garden. DON now joins Rice’s group as well as the Lawrence County Conservation District and several other agencies who are supporting the project.

“We’re a group of concerned citizens who want to try to help other communities thrive,” Rice said prior to the start of Saturday’s meeting at the Sons of Italy on South Mill Street. “We’re doing some things on the Lower East Side (where the garden provides free produce to anyone who needs it), so we’re bringing the South Side in today. We want to let them know about the garden we’re trying to do on Friendship Street and about a community clean-up that will be headed up by Tri-County Cleanways.

“We also want feedback from them. What does this community want, and how can they help us help them?”

Mary Burris of the Lawrence County Conservation District emphasized that the help of South Side residents is integral to the project.

“We need a South Side group — a steering committee of South Side residents who are going to have a stake in this, because this is your neighborhood,” she told the nearly four dozen people in attendance. We don’t want to come in from another neighborhood and impose this on you.

“We’re looking for buy-in, we’re looking for some enthusiasm.”

The clean-up is scheduled for 9 a.m. to noon April 11, beginning at the site of the proposed garden and fanning out from there. A second clean-up will commence at 8:45 a.m. May 16.

Work on the garden also will begin in the spring.

“It’s the site of an old school, and we believe that underneath all of that is probably construction debris,” Burris said, adding that is one reason why the garden will feature raised beds. “We don’t know what kind of quality we’re going to find, and the chances are, it’s urban soils. We do know that parts of the high end, along Pollock, have large swaths of concrete and asphalt from playground and parking.

“So all of that is going to have to be removed, and DON Services is going to volunteer the equipment and manpower to take all that stuff out. And the site will have to be graded to make it a little more accessible and level off certain areas”

In explaining a rendering of the proposed garden, Burris noted that there will be a 30-inch high, terraced brick garden at its center. Fruit trees to provide shade are planned for the west side of the property, as well as a couple of grape arbors with seating underneath.

The garden is slated to have two rainwater collection systems, thanks to funding by Arts & Education at the Hoyt, which obtained a grant for their creation. The collectors — just like the one that looks like a giant flower in the Lower East Side Garden — will be made from old, large satellite dishes.

“Along the outside edges of the property would be raised wooden beds” Burris said. “It will all be (wheelchair) accessible.”

Rice has seen the Lower East Side Community Garden become a gathering place, in addition to a provider of produce. He told the story of some young girls who approached him there one day and asked if it would be OK for them to have a picnic in the garden.

“They’d brought blankets and everything,” he said.

Organizers hope a South Side garden will foster the same sense of community.

“We really wanted to bring unity back to community,” said Corey Kendall, a member of the Lower East Side Community Garden Group, “and this was one way to do it: a community space where people come together and grow foods. We even sang karaoke there.

“When it comes to clean-ups, along with the community garden, we can sit all day and wait for government to do it, or we can do it ourselves. If you want to do it, this is your opportunity. But it’s going to take a buy-in from you guys to do something and make this your community space.”

After getting the community garden going on the South Side, Rice hopes to move on to other areas of the city. But, he said, people don’t have to wait for him and his organization to come to them,

With the help of the Penn State Extension, “we’re adding an education aspect to it, teaching people how they can do this on their own,” he said. “We don’t want to be your source of feeding, we want to educate you on how, of you’ve got this much space, you can grow yourself 50 pounds of potatoes.”

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