The Connellsville Community Gardens are growing, in more ways than one!
Added to the three working gardens initiated by last year's Corps, the Trail Town Outreach Corps has established more community gardening spaces this year, with plans to expand further.
The gardens serve as a gathering space for community members to share growing experience, fresh produce, ideas about neighborhood improvement, and general life stories and advice.
And as Connellsville further defines its role as a Bike Trail Town, the community gardens can draw visitors into the town on a themed bike loop, to explore all of the planted spaces. This serves dually to improve community pride and to facilitate interaction between visiting bikers and local business.
In addition, all produce from the community gardens is harvested for donation to the local food bank or for fundraising at the Connellsville farmers' market.
There are now seven community garden spaces in Connellsville that TTOC has established:
1. Corner Plot at Pittsburgh Street and Crawford Avenue - this main intersection in town is devoted to perennial and annual flowers; because of its location on an old brownfield site and its close proximity to vehicular exhaust, TTOC does not use this space for growing food crops. This year, the gardens are managed largely by a three-generation family and TTOC.
2. 3rd Street Beds along the Great Allegheny Passage Bike Trail - these raised beds line the bike trail as cyclists make their way into town. TTOC and a few very committed community members who live on the street plant, water, mulch, and harvest a number of food plants and some flowers as well. New participants include a mother and son team working to gain community service hours.
3. Raised Bed and Tire Planters at the Northern Bike Trailhead (photo below) - on Earth Day, April 22nd, more than 50 volunteers (many of them middle school students) came out to build and plant a raised bed with greens and flowers; reshape old tires into tiered planters and fill with hardy, native flowers; re-paint old railbed infrastructure, and begin a native plant restoration process along a highly-eroded slope. Themes for the day emphasized creative re-use and how to conserve our natural spaces in a sustainable way.
4. Garden Bed and Education Day at Local Middle School (Junior High West) - inspired by the Earth Day event, the students and their teacher invited TTOC to the local middle school to establish a garden bed and talk about how to start seeds, compost, plant, and harvest the produce in the fall. This is one of six beds that the students will hopefully establish in the future; one for each of the six science classes.
5. Community Center Garden - located immediately beside the Greater Connellsville Community Center, this fenced lot holds squash, watermelon, tomatoes, peppers, lettuces and greens, herbs, and beans. Throughout the summer, TTOC will host open-garden days where volunteers can come for a couple hours to weed and harvest. Fall 2010 update: Harvest totals include, but are not limited to, over 400 tomatoes, hundreds of leaves of swiss chard and kale, 20 squashes, over 100 peppers, dozens of onions, carrots, and bunches of fresh herbs. This all donated in addition to leftover produce from ten farmers' markets held during the summer on Saturdays, graciously gifted by Duda's Produce.
6. Raised Beds by the Basketball Courts and the Library - TTOC works with the Connellsville Garden Club to improve the community space beside their monthly meeting location. A local neighbor requested some garden bed space of her own, and with the impromptu help of some local kids, TTOC put in two beds beside the public basketball courts. Future goals of this site entail engaging youth who use the courts to prevent vandalism of the gardens by their peers (or themselves).
7. East Park into Art Park - a couple high schoolers have adopted a local park as part of their senior project with the intent of beautifying the park, rebuilding its recreational infrastructure (lawn bowling lanes, an amphitheater, etc.), painting over graffiti, and restoring the park to its former glory, back when it hosted outdoor movies and live music on a regular basis. Part of the beautification process so far has entailed putting in a raised bed by one of the park entrances, and further plantings by the amphitheater. TTOC is helping the students organizationally as well in terms of how to structure volunteer work days, how to organize ideas into a practical plan, and how to bring the plan to fruition.
Reconnecting with sources of fresh food and natural beauty bolster personal satisfaction and achievement for the volunteers and TTOC alike while greening an urban setting and reducing harmful human impact on the environment. This gardening program is a win-win-win for community, business, and environment!
FALL 2010 UPDATE
- TTOC applied for and received a grant award from The Pittsburgh Foundation's Trail Volunteer Fund to design, produce, and install uniform educational signage in each community garden. The signs inform garden visitors of the purpose of the plots, remind them to respect the plants and keep the area clean, and offer contact information for interested volunteers. Brochure boxes were also installed, to hold more detailed information about the gardens.
- Junior High West now has its second garden bed, installed in November 2010 by community volunteers and TTOC!
- TTOC and community volunteers recently seeded a hillside by the bike trailhead with native seed mixes, to improve erosion control and foster native habitat. The soil on the site is a mix of sand and old rail bed and greatly needs remediation.
- In a number of the gardens, TTOC and community volunteers have planted a winter cover crop of rye and hairy vetch, to protect the topsoil during winter, establish roots and aerate the soil, and fix nitrogen for next season's crops.
- TTOC hosted a Connellsville Community Garden potluck, where all garden members could meet and greet, discuss successes of the season, plan for next year, and share their favorite dish. Needless to say, the dishes were full of garden-fresh produce, enjoyed by one and all.