Happy Hollow celebrates 100 years with a new orchard

As Allison Weiss walked toward Pulaski Street from Wayne Avenue with a wheelbarrow full of equipment, she stopped to inform people of the celebration that was happening just a few steps away.

Some walked away without acknowledging her, while others showed a bit of interest. Either way, Weiss kept a positive attitude about the 100th year celebration of the Happy Hollow Playground, where volunteers gathered to plant a commemorative garden and a few trees on Saturday.

The park, which was donated by the Clark family, has been in tough shape for 30 years, Weiss said.

She has been advocating for the playground for five years, and during the winter she submitted an application to the Philadelphia Orchard Project.

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Phil Forsyth, the orchard director for POP, said that any groups the orchard project decides to work with must legally be able to use the land, which should also be protected from vandalism. The gardens must be taken care of, and the area should be located in a low-income neighborhood or part of the produce should be donated to food pantries. Happy Hallow is the 25th POP site.

Since there isn’t anything that closes off the grassy area, located on the second level of Happy Hallow, only four fruit trees were planted, and fences would be built around them for protection, he said.

If it goes well, more trees will be planned in the future.

The area already looked drastically different than just a few months ago, when students from Drexel University College of Medicine started volunteering their time.

Before then, the ground wasn’t visible, and the tennis court on site was not accessible. The students started going once a week, even on days with bad weather. It took them five to six days to clear out the area completely of plants like kudzu, said Meiling Young, a Drexel student.

“Before, it looked like a jungle,” she said. “Kudzu grows a couple feet overnight.”

After that, the city provided the volunteers with wood chips, which they scattered everywhere, she said.

Students from the Happy Hollow after school program helped build garden beds that volunteers filled with soil on Saturday as part of the 100th Anniversary event.

Matt Feldman and his two children, Evelyn, 6, and Jacob, 4, helped with this project.

They walked from their house, which was visible from the garden, to help Allison Weiss. Feldman is impressed with how hard Weiss works to improve a neighborhood that he thinks has not yet lived up to its full potential.

His children shoveled dirt for the garden, but Evelyn asked her father if they could work on planting trees instead. As the tree was planted, the children waited eagerly to fill in the hole.

The event also brought support from firefighters and Councilman William Greenlee.

Greenlee said that since the city can’t work with all the community centers that need help, this effort was a great example of what will make a change.

“It gives us more of an argument why we need to help these people, because they’re helping themselves,” he said.

For the last six months, Becky Freeman has been in touch with Weiss. She lives nearby and is interested in having a plot in the garden because her house doesn’t get too much sun. Freeman said her family’s involvement has been minor so far, but she thinks it will be different in the future.

“When this becomes more ready to use, I think we’ll be here more often,” she said. “It’s a good fit for us.”

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