The Story of Summer of Solutions Hartford 2011
by Jennifer Roach
With a team of eight full-time participants we kicked off the program on June 20th with Training and Orientation Week, where we learned grassroots organizing and leadership development skills, set our goals for the summer, and got our hands dirty volunteering with Grow Hartford and Foodshare.
On July 6th, the Southside Institutions Neighborhood Alliance opened the fence to two abandoned lots on Zion Street and we began work mowing the lawn and picking up trash. That days that followed are a beautiful blur of building boxes, making friends with our neighbors, shoveling dump truck loads of soil, and playing in the sprinkler with neighborhood kids. Personally, it was overwhelming to see how our team of participants and community members came together to turn two eyesores into blossoming community assets.
Yes, it was finally, really, happening.
Adrien, Ramón, Aden, Joe, Luis, and Nino in the first week of garden construction.
One week later we stood, caked with dirt and sweat, in front of el Jardín de Zion Street. Neighbors were selecting seedlings and giving them new homes in 26 raised beds, all of which were cared for by families or individuals from the community. Nino, our five-year-old neighbor, was pushing a wheelbarrow of soil to what would be his dad’s plot. Ramón and I planted a squash plant together. He said “it will be beautiful,” and it was beautiful.
Ramón and our squash plant El Jardín de Zion Street, 4 days old
Luis helped us fill beds with soil for his neighbors Nino and his wheelbarrow
As the news spread that those vacant lots were now gardens, more and more people showed up to ask for plots, showing that there was far more interest in gardening on Zion Street than we had predicted. We built more boxes as fast as we could, but still had a waiting list until August 5th, when we put in the 60th bed. All the while, neighbors came in and out every day, caring for their seedlings, helping the newest members plant, or just relaxing in the shade. They told us the garden had become a safe space, a community sanctuary where kids were welcome to play and neighbors chatted who had never met before, bringing stores from Somalia, Puerto Rico, Kenya, and Georgia. Once most of the garden structure was in place, we worked on nurturing that valuable sense of community ownership.
The tire planters are overflowing… …and we find critters in our compost!
We held a series of Saturday afternoon potlucks in the garden, which drew between 30 and 50 people each time. At the end of July we put on Art Week, a week of nightly public art activities in the garden. We did recycled art, graffiti, planter painting, and an open mic night. Now the fence is lined with artwork and a graffiti banner hangs out front.
Mural Painting Day Graffiti Day
For the first week of August we organized Kids’ Week, a free summer camp for local kids. Our team ran programming about gardening, nutrition, cooking, and plant biology. It was an exhausting but rewarding week. Between the potlucks, Art Week, and Kids’ Week, we welcomed many new faces to the garden. Whether people intended on planting or not, they became part of the community.
Going on a vitamin scavenger hunt in the garden ”How do plants eat?”
Plenty of time on the playground Painting a mural for the garden!
On our last night, we threw a dinner party in the garden to thank everyone who had been involved. With lamps, candles, and Christmas lights glowing, we had a chance to catch up with people individually and bid our farewells until next summer. It was during one of these conversations that our neighbor Sheila reflected on waking up to a garden outside her window. She calls it “a wonderland.”
I’d have to agree, but to be honest I’m biased. After months of planning Summer of Solutions Hartford, this summer meant so much to me. Believe it or not, we’re already planning Summer of Solutions Hartford 2012. Because this year was such a success we are expanding the program in both size and scope, reaching out to more youth and more land. We hope you will follow our progress as we continue on this exciting journey.