For The Good, Inc. Community Gardens

  (Utica, New York)
Building Community As We Grow Good Food!
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Jay Street Garden Celebration

It was a hard sell for Theresa Mott’s BOCES GED class on Good Friday when she first brought them to the Jay Street Garden. The day was cold and dreary and the plot looked like the neglected place it was. There were plenty of weeds and dead leavings from the year before in every bed. Sticks and twine leaning and twisted, beds were trash strewn and half empty of soil. The place was a disaster.
But Theresa knew that beyond the mortal view there was growth to come. Growth in the soon to be cleared and tended beds and growth in her students for the transformation they would soon be a part of.
That transformation was realized 10 weeks later when those same students, who had come complaining and foot dragging, were in the garden to celebrate and bless the work they had done with a picnic. Work done, not only in the Jay Street Community Garden but, in the classroom as well. There were graduates among the picnickers.
These new Urban Gardeners are also DSS recipients who are mandated to work in exchange for their monthly allotment. What they had begun to receive in exchange for their work in the garden was the beginning of a season’s bounty of fresh organic produce. It has come in the form of pounds of musculin mix lettuce, mustard greens, radishes and Swiss chard.
The first ‘fruits’ were actually tender dandelion greens for salad or cooking and dandelion roots for tea. Cassandra Harris-Lockwood, CEO of For The Good, Inc. is also the Garden Manager this year and is also an herbalist. She explained to the students in the Spring that dandelion is an edible herb and that the root in particular is beneficial. Many of the student took home pounds of the early tender greens prior to budding.
Harris-Lockwood also brought the healing herb comfrey to the garden for transplanting and explained that Native Americans refer to it as ‘bone-knit.’ It came in handy when one of the gardeners was stung by a bee and the herb immediately eased the pain.
The students are being trained in intensive organic gardening techniques. They are learning intensive planting, succession planting and companion planting. Over the course of the summer they will be introduced to non-toxic pest control applications and how to harvest crops so that plants, like lettuce and kale continue continue to produce throughout the season.
Another major player of the garden scene has been Lead Gardener, Larry Drake of Feed Our Vets. Larry is at the Garden Mondays, Wednesday, and Fridays. He keeps the lawns mowed, the weeds wacked, tends to planting and moves fill. The day of the picnic Larry was the man on the grill, keeping hotdogs and hamburgers coming.
Most everyone brought something for the pot luck portion of the meal, including the Hamilton College gardeners who came.
They are lead by Hillary Joy Pitoniak who is the Greenhouse/Invertebrate Care Technician & Supervisor of the Hamilton College Community Farm. The Hamilton gardeners have brought several varieties of seedlings to Utica’s Community Gardens and have been an inspiration to the fledgling Jay Street gardeners. Their ease and expertise in the garden provided a sense of greater esteem to those who had previously resented getting their hands dirty. Working alongside the bright and capable college students added a new dimension to what had been seen as drudgery.
Fr. John Ngyuen from Old Historic St. John’s, came to the event to bless the garden and those who planted it, reading from scripture and sprinkling holy water on beds as many of the group walked along behind him.
A number of elected officials attended the gathering including Senator Joe Griffo, John Stemen, representing Assemblyman Anthony Brindisi, County Legislator Rose Ann Convertino and Councilman Frank Vescera.
Mayor Rob Palmieri showed up later in the afternoon with his Chief of Staff, Jim Murphy. Other than sampling hot dogs, hamburgers and other fare, the Mayor had the chance to toss the Frisbee with some of the participants.
Unable to attend the picnic, Representative Richard Hanna instead sent individual certificates of recognition to all of the new Urban Gardeners. This was a cherished acknowledgement for some who have never been recognized for a job well done. The crops coming forth are certainly gratification and will continue to be during the course of the season.
When Senator Joe Griffo asked one of the Gardeners, “What was the best part of all of the work?”
She answered, “Seeing the things grow.”
What she didn’t recognize was how much she and her other classmates had grown as well.
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