Last weekend the crisp fall air at Francis Cope House at the Awbury Arboretum was filled with laughter, conversation and the mouth watering scents of baked mac and cheese, cakes and casseroles.
About 40 people from across Northwest Philadelphia gathered for the Arboretum’s first annual Fall Harvest Pot Luck Dinner. Long time neighbors and friends of the Arboretum chatted, swapped recipes, listened to guitar, and made plans for keeping the Arboretum a vital part of the community.
The Arboretum is a unique urban space. While it is open to the public, there are also private homes within the park setting. Arboretum resident Mark Sellers, whose home is surrounded by the park, is used to visitors wandering across his front lawn. “The boundaries are porous and nobody cares to make a distinction. We feel like it’s all a community.”
Dell Conner who lived in the Arboretum for 30 years agreed. “Openness is a key word. You have to be open to share the community.”
“It really is a precious place,” said Selba Boyd, a 59-year resident of Awbury. “Here, you can get the luxuries of the suburbs right in the heart of Germantown.”
The Awbury Arboretum Association, whose mission is to connect an urban community with nature and history, is responsible for the maintenance of the 55 acre site. Recently, the association began expanding that mission to include community development and engagement through a series of public service activities and events, including this weekend’s pot luck.
Residents talked, ate, and pinned leaves on the “Awbury tree,” completing the phrase ‘my Awbury is a place where…’ with words like ‘people come together,’ ‘I find serenity,’ and ‘I can eat good food.’ Children painted faces on pumpkins, played kickball across the expanse of lawn and scrambled across the grounds on a scavenger hung.
Evelyn Spann, 82, said the special added aspect of the pot luck event, was the opportunity to talk about food. “This place is like a sanctuary for me and events like this give you something to socialize about. You can ask ‘who made the bread pudding’ and learn recipes and it’s just really nice getting to know everybody.”
Rosco Williams, President of the Awbury Community Garden, said he hopes members of the community know that they are welcome. “Often times people don’t know that these places are open to the public, so they look at places like this and say ‘that’s not for me’ but it really is something everyone should experience,” Williams said. “The food is just an added attraction, because people love to eat.”
Beth Miner, the association’s manager of outreach and community engagement said the event was a big success. “It was nice to see so many people from different race, class, and thought communities,” she said. “It was so organic; people were allowed to show up when they wanted to and bring whatever they wanted to bring. I’m so happy with the outcome.”
The Arboretum plans to sponsor more events to attract neighbors from across Northwest Philadelphia.