One of the simplest things that you can do to enhance a neighborhood is to plant a garden (or multiple gardens for that matter). When I walk around the West Side, I can’t help but smile when I come across a beautiful food or flower-bearing garden. On the West Side, these gardens are plentiful and can be found on just about every street, thanks to community efforts, and those of Grassroots Gardens. There are also plenty of neighborhood and community farms that dot the landscape (some with hoophouses, and others with public art).
In recent years, there has been an enhanced effort to create more community gardens on the city’s East Side. In fact, there are now over 50 Grassroots Gardens found on the East Side.
Now, the New Buffalo Institute at Canisius College is jumping onboard with the community garden effort. The organization has announced that it is creating a 20-bed community garden in a vacant lot 1635 Jefferson Avenue, between Florida Street and Northland Avenue. This is a significant undertaking that will help to further stabilize the neighborhood by developing a productive space that will not only yield vegetables, it will also become a healthy gathering place for neighbors (and the college).
Ultimately, the garden oasis is being built and tended by local residents, block clubs, youth groups, and members of the faith community, with support from Canisius College students. And not only will the vegetables become a source of sustenance for nearby residents, they will also be donated to the food pantry at the Upper Room Church of God in Christ. Other groups participating in the project are the City of Buffalo, the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, Freedom Gardens, the Hamlin Park Taxpayers Association, HOPE Buffalo a Project of CAI, NeuWater Associates, and Senior Housing at 1490 Jefferson.
“While the Western New York region suffers from poor health outcomes, the chosen area of this community garden is particularly unhealthy,” explains Mary Rockwell, PhD, director of the New Buffalo Institute at Canisius College. “There is an absence of a food system that makes affordable, culturally relevant and healthy food available to residents on the East Side. This new project will activate empty lots that have been underutilized and replace them with a vibrant, safe, community garden and social hub where fresh food can be grown, healthy living tips shared and social connectivity re-established.”
Canisius College is loaning the vacant lots at Jefferson Avenue for the development of the community gardens, which is set to get underway this month. The initiative is receiving significant support from three local organizations:
- The Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus (BNMC) Spark grant awarded The New Buffalo Institute $4,000 for the garden project. Funds will support the purchase of soil, seedlings and garden tools. BNMC Spark is a micro-grant program, which showcases creative ideas and strategies that support neighborhood partners, and promote access to healthy food and active living, as well as neighborhood beautification.
- HOPE Buffalo awarded the Institute a $3,000 grant for the purchase and construction of raised beds for the garden. HOPE Buffalo a Project of CAI advocates for optimal teen health and wellbeing. Grants awarded by the organization target initiatives that promote positive youth development, engagement and adolescent health in the Buffalo community.
- A Love Your Block mini-grant, in the amount of $1,500, will enable organizers to purchase organic soil and compost for the community garden. The mini-grant program awards small grants to neighborhood-based organizations for volunteer-led beautification projects that reduce blight. The grant program is funded by Cities of Service and Cities RISE, and administered by the city of Buffalo’s Division of Citizen Services.
“Having been in the Jefferson/Hamlin Park community for more than 50 years, we at the Upper Room Church of God in Christ are very excited to welcome the community garden project into the community,” says Pastor Daniel L. Benning. “This project will beautify a vacant lot and provide a destination for community and church gatherings, which will literally be sown into the health and wellness of the community.”
Before this community garden project came into the picture, Canisius College maintained another community garden at 1032 Lafayette Avenue – this garden is under the care of Canisius faculty members and neighbors from the Oxford Square Block Club. These gardens are important outreach tools that help to stabilize and strengthen the college’s host neighborhood. Not only do these efforts help connect people together to interact on a more personal and intimate level, it also helps to beautify the neighborhoods in a more productive manner. These are the types of neighborhood-building exercises that are considered crucial placemaking models.