A number of organizations and the community have united under the banner of "GROW Jamestown" to promote gardening and landscaping.
Jamestown Renaissance Corporation and the Chautauqua County Health Network's Creating Healthy Places to Live, Work and Play have teamed up with several other partners to reintroduce community gardening to Jamestown.
According to Peter Lombardi, JRC director of neighborhood initiatives, community gardens have emerged in many cities as a powerful tool to reactivate vacant lots, engage neighbors and facilitate healthy lifestyles. Although the practice hasn't been fully utilized in recent years, during the 20th century, Jamestown and other American cities promoted community gardening. For instance, World War I had "liberty gardens," the great depression had "relief gardens" and World War II had "victory gardens" to augment food supplies. And for decades, the city of Jamestown leased space to gardeners in lots on Jones and Gifford Avenue. Demonstration gardens, supportive policies, and a network of gardener resources are currently in the development and planning stages. As a result, Demonstration Community Gardens have been created in several locations.
The Washington Street Community Garden, located on the corner of Washington Street and Eighth Street.
P-J photos by Dusten Rader
The Washington Street Community Garden hosts 10 raised beds.
Community gardens sustain a variety of plant life ranging from edible to aesthetic.
"I think the progress that has been made this summer shows us the potential for community gardens to brighten vacant lots, and provide a productive reuse for land that's been sitting fallow for decades," said Lombardi. "The Allen Street Community Garden in particular has a lot of potential to demonstrate community gardening as a community redevelopment tool."
There are currently three community gardens that started this year on vacant lots in the city of Jamestown. The gardens are on privately owned land leased by the JRC. They are: Lakeview Avenue Community Garden, 19 raised beds on land owned by Harold Whitford and Brenda Strasser; Washington Street Community Garden, 13 raised beds on land owned by John Noe; Allen Street Community Garden, 10 raised beds on land owned by Chris and Talitha Mascelli. All raised beds are filled with high-quality soil and are 12 feet long, 4 feet wide and 1 foot high. Beds can be leased for an annual payment of $10.
The gardens on Washington and Lakeview have also been doing very well, said Lombardi. Thanks to funding from the CCHN, beds were built and filled with soil by BOCES students. And, every bed that was built was leased out and utilized by members of the community.
"Gardeners leased the beds, were provided with water and were able to plant whatever they wanted," said Lombardi. "People grew a wide range of vegetables and flowers, which is one of many models for community gardens around the country."
According to Lombardi, one of the challenges the program faced was deciding which models were appropriate for the conditions in Jamestown.
"What we found is that the majority of vacant lots with high visibility in Jamestown are privately owned," said Lombardi. "So, the model we're developing leverages partnerships with private-property owners who aren't currently utilizing the vacant lot. The idea is to try to demonstrate how to develop and run community gardens to show potential interested parties such as organizations, institutions and churches. So, we're inviting anyone who may be interested in starting one to come and talk to us to become involved in the future of the project."
Chris Mascelli, 36, Frewsburg native, owner of CJM Construction Consulting, is the property owner of the land on which the Allen Street Community Garden is located. His vision for the garden is to create a place that his children, as well as the community, can learn where food comes from, he said.
"It's a good program because it's getting people back to something that used to be a very basic skill growing their own food," said Mascelli. "We've become so urbanized that kids don't even know how to pick an apple from a tree without breaking the branch."
Mascelli was so happy with how the program went this summer that he is investing further into expanding the available property for public use, he said.
"It's become my goal to acquire the two adjacent properties to put up hoop houses, and more," said Mascelli. "To be able to have people there enjoying the gardening is very rewarding. And, I couldn't think of a better use for the land."
There was such a high demand for use of the raised beds on his property that Mascelli will be adding another six to 10 for next year's season. He'll also build a greenhouse on the foundation of the house that burnt down at the location. And, he is working on implementing an aquaponics system in which fish and plants will exist harmoniously.
An example of how the food produced by the project can beneficially be utilized is that some of the gardeners intended to, or already have donated, some of their harvest to St. Susan Center, which in 2011 served more than 95,000 meals, said Lombardi.
The GROW Jamestown program also serves to beautify and increase value of neighborhoods by offering resources to assist gardeners. This summer the GROW Jamestown Front Garden Recognition program nominated more than 300 gardens for small signs to promote good front yard gardens.
"The GROW Jamestown program is a wide-ranging comprehensive approach to thinking about how greening Jamestown can play a big role in making our neighborhoods healthier," said Lombardi. "Many of our ideas were adopted as a result of seeing the positive impact they had in other cities. So, we've been pleased to see them beginning to work in Jamestown."
Janet Forbes, of the CCHN, is the project coordinator of Creating Healthy Places to Live, Work and Play that began as a result of a grant received in the fall of 2010 from the New York State Department of Health to look at chronic-disease prevention. The goal is to look at system policy and environmental change around access to healthy food and to encourage active living, she said.
"If our community is eating healthy and being active it can prevent a lot of chronic disease," said Forbes. "So, our partnership with the JRC is perfect because community gardens are a big aspect of neighborhood engagement and revitalization; and on our end we're looking at health and wellness."
According to Forbes, she believes the project will continue to thrive because the grant funding the CCHN's involvement still has three years left.
"We'd like to see this become an ongoing project that would be embedded with both the JRC and the city of Jamestown so that when our funding is gone, this project absolutely continues on over many years, and expands," said Forbes. "As of now, the city code does not allow agricultural use as the primary use for vacant lots. So, our next step is to work with city on considering some zoning code changes, which would make the many vacant lots in Jamestown available for agricultural use."
The three community gardens on Washington, Allen and Lakeview are currently utilizing the land in an agricultural manner as a secondary use. But, Forbes hopes that the code changes will be in effect by next spring, if not sooner, she said.
"The focus of our work is sustainable change," said Forbes. "So, we've worked with many other partners including The Resource Center, The Boys and Girls Club, Joint Neighborhood Project, Jamestown Public Schools and many more. The goal is to promote the educational experience, and for them to have fresh produce available for their participants and clients. We'd particularly like to work with families and children because we know if we can help them with gardening skills and give them the opportunity to grow and then eat their produce, then they learn to enjoy and incorporate that into their diet throughout their life."
In addition to the numerous other organizations involved in the project, The Lenna Foundation, Community Foundation and Sheldon Foundation have supported the JRC investment into the gardens.
To get involved call Lombardi at 338-9889. For more information visit jrconline.org/nb-GrowJamestown.html. And, for tips on how to start a community garden visit communitygarden.org.