Evergreen Community Garden
The Evergreen Community Garden is a response to the various ailments that have afflicted our community and broader society in both recent and distant years. We are using this garden as a learning tool to address and resolve the many injuries and injustices that our community faces. Through educating local people on how to grow food, with an emphasis on uplifting the youth, we stand to reason that an organic garden, especially one utilizing reclaimed land, is one of the most effective means we have to secure a healthier future for ourselves both individually and collectively.
The point of our garden is not only to grow food, though noble. Instead our main goal is to educate and empower the youth about the world around them. We use our efforts to teach classes about systemic oppression, and how deprivation of healthy food to marginalized communities is a form of oppression. We address many issues throughout these courses such as race, class and gender; teaching the children that these factors have all played a part in the lack of organic food available to the community around them, and how it can be detrimental not only to their health, but their performance in school as well. The Evergreen Community Garden is run primarily by people of color, and we not only want to arm our people with the tools to a healthier life, but the knowledge as well.
Meeting first in late 2017, a diverse group of skilled community members brainstormed how a common field of grass could be turned into a vibrant garden. With the obvious goal of feeding local people with local food, we also accepted the idea that a community garden could serve as a learning tool with respect to economics, civics, and health! Thanks to the industrious works of some brilliant local people, a few very early donations, and the approval from the Monticello Housing Authority, we were able to gather enough materials to begin building our garden.
Many more generous volunteers, professionals, farmers, and organizations labored with us throughout our journey. By mid-summer (2018) we had healthy plants with fully ripened fruit, refrigerators full with freshly harvested greens, and neighbors, some for the first time, sharing laughs and recipes with each other. This also allowed us to have a potluck, feed the community after the growing season, as well as sell the surplus at affordable prices. This is a fundraising idea we plan on continuing through next year, in order to help fund the program and get organic food out to the general public.
Ironically, though tragic, Sullivan County has been ranked as the second unhealthiest county in all New York State for many years now*. Considering the natural wealth of our forests, mountains, water, and generally very good outdoor air quality, this may be a surprise to many. Keep in mind the historical significance Monticello and the Catskills Mountains played as a premier vacation destination for many worldwide travelers.
As a rural community, another common trouble many people face is a lack of affordable public transportation, which limits access to wholesome foods (food deserts), as well as many opportunities. Accordingly, a common narrative especially amongst young people is that there is nothing to offer here and they ought to move away to a more metropolitan area as soon as they can. This garden stands to change that narrative.
Last year we spent most our efforts on growing the actual garden. This year with our garden in place, we are shifting our energies to the far more honorable goal of growing gardeners and community leaders. With our youth stipend program we plan to have approximately 12 local children and teenagers participate in a summer long program (including a couple months in spring and autumn), where they will learn and grow
Our plans for this year are as follows:
Increase yield of fruits and vegetables by double or triple last year using organic methods.
Have weekly activity days in the garden where we learn about: planting seeds, soil health, irrigation, weed suppression, organic fertilizing methods like composting & cover-cropping, how to use a variety of hand tools, how to harvest and store produce, seed saving, and how these skills can prove useful in many other professions.
Teach children about systemic oppression and how it affects them.
Teach children how to combat an institution that is actively working against them.
Go on a handful of field trips with youth stipend program to local farms so they can gain insight on the social and economic issues surrounding agriculture. Potentially visiting some local scenic wildlife habitats as well and learning about how agriculture affects the environment.
Use the extra food we grow to create a farm stand or market gardening program where we learn how to generate wealth through agricultural pursuits.
Invite a variety of speakers to give classes to the community on: natural health, agricultural history, preparing food from garden, and empowering our youth.
Through these initiatives, the local residents will have all the skills and resources needed to maintain and optimize their garden for many years and decades. Our ultimate goal is to have a community-run garden, based on volunteering, with enough funds raised through our market garden to continue a youth stipend program. Through future grants, donations, and fundraising we plan to use this garden as a proof of concept to build many more community and market gardens throughout marginalized rural areas.
As a result of our garden, that thousands of butterflies now migrate to, a more peaceful and joyous atmosphere has taken root. The resounding support we received from nearby residents during last year’s harvest season lets us know that we will have an even greater number of volunteer participants throughout this year. Also note that the $10,000 we receive as in-kind donations on the budget form is only partially reflective of the hundreds and hundreds of volunteer hours spent in the garden and in preparing for our various activities.
The three youth team leaders who participated last year will be in charge of making many key decisions this year. Assisted by our fiscal sponsor SASD or Sullivan Alliance for Sustainable Development, as well as a variety of other skilled community members, our youth team leaders will continue to coordinate the various activities and events, gaining management and administrative experience.