Many people in New Bethlehem community don’t realize there is free food just down the street.
It doesn’t cost anything in dollars and cents, but there is some sweat equity involved.
The New Bethlehem Community Garden began in 2009 as a way to encourage healthful eating. Anyone who is willing to volunteer to work in the garden can take home some of the bounty.
“We really want to try to promote them eating more fresh vegetables and also encouraging them to grow their own,” Millicent West, the director of New Bethlehem Community Center, said of the neighborhood residents.
Last week, Pauline Heard, the center’s clothing center manager, filled a large silver bowl with fresh tomatoes, squash and pole beans still specked with soil from the garden. She planned to offer them free to the senior citizens who would gather at the center the next day. Fresh produce is always available to the seniors at the center, and is sometimes given to those who request assistance from the food bank.
Neighborhood residents are free to pick vegetables, though, so long as they take only what their family can use, West said.
“If there’s something that you need for your family, if we can’t go to our pantry and get it, we can go into the garden and get something that will help, even if it’s just to make a pot of soup,” she said.
For the most part, residents respect the garden, although there have been occasional instances in which someone took more than their share.
Christie said she has seen many community gardens in other areas and thought that one would benefit the impoverished neighborhood around the community center.
“I read a lot about hunger in the world, and you can see just by walking or driving through the neighborhood that there aren’t many stores,” she said. “The stores that are there are moms-and-pops. The only things they have are candy and chips and that sort of thing.”
The garden sits on a corner lot across the street from the community center, on a piece of land the center rents from Habitat for Humanity for a nominal fee.
It started with one unframed row. It has since grown to seven framed rows and has its own water supply, thanks to the city, Christie said.
Her vision includes a small greenhouse for producing warm-weather vegetables such as tomatoes year-round. She also wants to install a pergola for more picnic space and a small tool shed.
That costs money, and she was told she needs a contractor to help her apply for a permit, Christie said. “I’m looking for someone who wouldn’t mind volunteering a little bit of time to get the permits done,” she said.
Several church and other community groups have turned out to help in the garden. Occasionally during the school year, Christie will take after-school children to help in the garden. In turn, the students are rewarded with snacks and sandwiches.
More volunteers are needed to work the garden. Christie is there nearly every Wednesday afternoon and is happy to share her knowledge along with the vegetables.
West said she thinks that although it is slowly catching on, most people don’t realize the garden is theirs.
“I think part of it may be that people don’t really know that it’s here. It’s for everybody in the community,” she said. “I think the whole idea of volunteerism, period, is an issue. So getting people to volunteer and getting people to understand the concept of a community garden is difficult.”