Community gardening : City garden grows in many ways (Google / UticaOD)

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City garden grows in many ways

Posted Jun 08, 2008 @ 08:23 AM
Last update Jun 09, 2008 @ 08:23 AM


A group of refugees from Russia, Bosnia, Somalia and Belarus spent several hours Thursday morning at the community garden located at the F.X. Matt/Adrean Terrace/N.D. Peters housing complex in East Utica, replanting bean, onion, pepper and tomato plants originally planted in Hamilton College’s greenhouse. The event marked the final step in a year-long effort to establish a working flower and vegetable garden for the housing complex residents. The garden is representative of many successful endeavors in Utica made possible through the coordinated effort and generosity of business, government, foundation and educational entities as well as individual citizens.

Last year, I decided to dedicate my time to making this garden a reality as a result of my interest in organic gardening and community development. A year earlier, I studied in Thailand where I saw first-hand the advantages of community farming.

My experiences abroad showed me that a common area such as a shared garden can be key to alleviating a problem often found in refugee housing blocks like the Matt Apartments, isolated families separated from other families due to linguistic and cultural differences.

There are nutritional benefits to community gardening. The Food Security Learning Center notes that community gardening is a “unique and valuable way for immigrants who move from a rural home to a new city to maintain their own culture … being able to maintain a traditional diet and be healthier and happier.”

Community garden projects have especially benefited older refugees. Gardening requires physical activity combined with the activity of thinking and planning. Preparing the soil and deciding what to plant leads to activities over the growing season, planting, watering, weeding and tending the garden, which produces a successful harvest.

Gardening is one way in which residents can come together, meet each other on common ground and overcome barriers. My ultimate goal has been for the refugees to transform an empty field of grass into garden plots where families of different backgrounds can create beauty and abundance, gardening together in peace despite their very limited English.

Last summer, a group of 34 refugee families in the housing complex from Eastern Europe and Somalia worked for 10 weeks with me to develop this project. The community garden took more than a vision and a committed group of gardeners — the success of this project was, and continues to be, dependent on support and generosity from the Utica community.

As the gardeners anticipate a fruitful growing season, I would like to thank all the individuals and organizations that have helped make this project a success:


Jenney Stringer is a 2008 graduate of Hamilton College in Clinton who worked during the last year to create a community garden for the refugees who live in Utica’s F.X. Matt housing complex.

Published by

Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.