A community garden is a wonderful idea for a vacant lot. The benefits outside of fresh produce, became very real to Lisa Freeman after founding the Manchester Growing Together Community Garden in 2011. Just a few blocks from her home in Pittsburgh’s Northside, the garden has had a lasting impact not only on her, but the surrounding community as well.
Gardens Are a Tool for Crime Prevention
[dt_sc_blockquote type=”type4″ align=”left” cite=”Lisa Freeman”]”Elements that we assume as bad became part of the community — part of the garden. It has a redemptive value. They were pulled into this community”[/dt_sc_blockquote]Lisa had a hard time ignoring the illegal activities happening on the corner near her garden. She would walk past young men selling drugs while hers arms were full of compost and tools. Instead of overlooking their behavior, she began to ask them for their help. Soon those that were engaged in illicit activities became garden volunteers.
Her observations aren’t new. According to a study performed in Philadelphia in 2000, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society maintained and greened 14,000 of Philly’s 54,000. At the end of a ten-year period, neighborhoods sporting reclaimed vacant lots showed a statistically significant decrease in shootings and other violent activity.
Youth Education Opportunities Extend Beyond Healthy Eating
Gardens near school-aged children are a great learning tool. Not only do they teach children about healthy eating, ecological stewardship and plant maintenance, but also they bolster math and history skills.
In the summer of 2014, Lisa and her husband, Wallace Sapp, who runs the Math Doctors program at Manchester Pittsburgh Public School PreK – 8 as a volunteer, created a summer program called Math + Mud to address social and educational gaps facing the school. Eighty-three percent of this Manchester school’ s population is below the poverty the poverty line and 27% of the third graders were below “basic” math skills assessment. This summer supplemental program gave 3rd graders the opportunity to learn math and “play in the dirt, while building important social skills and healthy eating habits.
Gardens just aren’t for the Growing Season
The garden has become more than just a food producing area, it also serves as a community gathering space year-round. Last year Lisa, her husband and fellow neighbors hosted a Light Up Night community party. As you can see in the video above, Lisa raised funds for her neighborhoods annual Light Up Night amongst other needs for her garden. Community gardens are so much more than a simple space to grow food.