When painter Carly Najera moved to East Falls in March, tangled weeds covered the lot at the intersection of Ridge Avenue and Scotts Lane. Shortly after her move, she heard about a group seeking to convert the lot into a community garden, and she and her husband quickly became one of 16 plot holders.
On Saturday, she joined the East Falls Community Garden Committee and her East Falls neighbors at a “Meet the Gardeners” work day and barbecue.
The committee selected the East Falls site in February, shortly after realizing their vision in the fall. The East Falls Community Council has leased the land since the ’90s and, after approving the garden idea, teamed up with the Ridge, Allegheny and Hunting Park Civic Association to promote the project in the neighborhood.
Rosalie Cooper, president of RAH, calls the endeavor a “cross boundary project.”
Nine months after the garden committee began brainstorming, the site became host to 15 raised beds of flowers and vegetables, including hot red peppers, eggplant and tomatoes. Spaces around the garden feature smaller, communal plots of herbs, pumpkins, cucumbers, squash and zucchini.
Collaboration and partnerships
Ben French, a member of the committee’s executive board, is in charge of design and implementation. He recognizes how quickly the garden has moved from a vision to a reality, and says the evolution would not have been possible without the material and financial assistance of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, Weavers Way, and the EFCC.
Such sponsorship allows neighbors to own 4×8 garden plots for $25 a year. Members are required to “tend their own beds,” said French, a responsibility that includes weeding, pruning, and removing vegetation as it ripens. This last task is a concern for some local residents, who are concerned about the possibility of the garden attracting unwanted critters. Staci Washington, a neighbor who lives across the street on Scotts Lane, shuddered when she recalled “a rat issue” that frustrated residents several years ago.
On Saturday, French worked on outlining a sixteenth bed and building a water catchment structure with wood donated by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society.
Word of the group’s planting has spread throughout the neighborhood, and there is a waiting list for future plot holders. French thinks the lot will fit many more raised beds, and he envisions the group eventually planting fruit trees and wildflowers, and placing picnic tables and benches at the entrance on Scotts Lane.
Sparking childhood memories
Dale Rio is a photographer who has lived in East Falls for three years. She was one of the first residents to suggest creating a community garden.
“My personal vision for the garden is a fully functioning food forest, with raised bed plots incorporated into it,” she said.
Rio takes pride in the water catchment that French and others assembled at one end of the lot on Saturday.
“Not only are we supplying water for ourselves,” Rio said, “but we’re also doing a small part in helping with Philly’s storm water management problem.” In year two of the garden project, Rio looks forward to starting a mentoring program so new gardeners will be paired up with experienced ones.
For now, Carly Najera is content with growing the food that she likes to eat. She thinks of her Italian grandfather as she tends the eggplant, zucchini, and tomato plants in her garden. “It’s reminiscent of my childhood,” she said.
Interested gardeners can contact the East Falls Community Garden team at email@example.com.