Saturday in the City - The Alley Garden

Saturday in the City - The Alley Garden

I spent much of last Saturday wandering the narrow and often-fascinating alleys around the city. Down a narrow alley behind South Shippen Street, I found a group of neighbors involved in a clean-up day in their communal “Alley Garden.” The Alley Garden was started in the spring of 2010 by Douglas Smith, Jessica King, Chad Martin, Kathan Teepe and several other people in their southeast neighborhood. Initially their idea was simply to put an empty plot of land into practical use as a garden where neighbors could grow and harvest fresh vegetables and herbs. But in the year and a half since the Alley Garden was created, it’s become much more. The little fabric flags that wave in the breeze near the entrance to the Alley Garden mark this as a peaceful space that’s as much about community and relationships as it is about carrots and rhubarb.

Neighbors and local businesses contributed seeds, tools, materials and labor to the initial work of clearing the land, improving the soil, and building a garden fence, compost bins and raised planting beds. A city church provided start-up funds. Faculty and staff from F&M (where Douglas Smith had attended) donated money too.

They made everything from recycled or “found” items. Old table legs became stakes for rapidly-growing vegetables . . .

a dilapidated wooden outdoor loveseat became a combination trellis and garden sculpture . . .

They added rain barrels from LIVE Green.

Three of the men who became active in the work of the Alley Garden used a handcart to haul 500 pounds of spent grain from Lancaster Brewing Company to activate the compost heap.

They invited kids and adults from the neighborhood to paint a mural on the back wall of an ugly concrete block garage that bordered the garden.

Kids from the neighborhood started showing up every time they saw Jessica near the garden, asking if she was going to work in the garden and if they could help. A group of 4 and 5 year-olds from a Sunday school class at a city church came to the garden one morning. They’d been learning about King Solomon’s garden, and came to see the Alley Garden. Middle schoolers from the Lancaster city Boys & Girls Club came to the alley garden to help with some of the planting and harvesting.


(photo courtesy of Jessica King)

The garden provides a welcoming space to teach kids about nutrition, the environment, recycling and sustainability.

On the day I visit the Alley Garden, Douglas Smith is harvesting Jerusalem artichokes, adding them to a big basket at his feet.

He rattles off a list of some of the items in this year’s harvest in the Alley Garden: chokeberries, raspberries, blueberries, and strawberries. Lemon balm, lavender, mint, sage, calendula, basil, thyme, oregano. Tomatoes, collards, kale, carrots, spinach, onions, mushrooms, tomatillos, squash, melons. It’s an incredible harvest, all grown in about 2000 square feet of space.

Smith tells me that one 13 year-old boy from the neighborhood is at the garden every day, sampling each kind of vegetable, fruit and herb the garden offers. “He told me that before the Alley Garden, he had never eaten any fresh vegetables. He didn’t know what they tasted like,” Smith says. “It’s so gratifying when you can make an impact like that.”

Part of the ongoing vision for the Alley Garden is to create a social enterprise where any excess produce from the garden or sauces, jams and other food products made from what’s grown in the garden would be sold to continue the environmental and social mission of the Alley Garden.

Workers and visitors to the Alley Garden write their prayers and wishes for the garden, for the neighborhood and for the world on scraps of fabric that are then bound together to make the prayer flags lining the garden fence.

Jessica King adds, “Seeing a broad range of people’s hopes for the garden, the neighborhood, the world, every time we walk into the garden is pretty fantastic and very hope-giving.”

Hope. That sounds like the most wonderful harvest of all.

Posted by Melanie Tagged as: city life lancaster pa peace sustainability social enterprise

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