Growing Together Expands

On May 22, during a brief dry window between May’s persistent bouts of rain, a group gathered at the Growing Together Garden on Reed Street with a mission: to add a new row of beds. With requests for growing space in continued high demand, this will allow an additional 20 families to join us in the garden.

Moving the beds, which were constructed during a prior workday with support from The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society and volunteers from Keller Williams, was a team effort. The garden looks forward to welcoming its newest growers.

Spring-Greens-and-Marigolds              Mustard-Greens

In other news, spring mustard greens are taking over! These fast growers are especially popular in Nepali and Bhutanese cuisine, and our gardeners could be seen harvesting the early leaves in addition to other spring greens as they tended their plots.

–Jenn Hall, NSC Volunteer, Writer


‘Growing Together’ for Another Season

On the heels of a successful inaugural season, Growing Together Garden at 2500 Reed Street kicked off 2016 with back-to-back events the weekend of April 15. The project continues as a partnership between NSC, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society and Church of the Redeemer Baptist, from which land for the garden has been leased. All three groups were in attendance to help start the year, joined by enthusiastic church members; refugees from Bhutan, Burma and the Democratic Republic of the Congo; a Nepali interpreter; and neighbors from Point Breeze.

On April 15, our first garden meeting was held at the Church of the Redeemer Baptist fellowship hall. Dozens of families signed up for one of 173 4′ x 10′ plots and received an overview of what to expect for 2016. Space is affordable at just $25, including growing space, seeds, water and shared tools. Demand remains high, and by the end of the weekend, a waiting list was already in place.  While listening to presentations from NSC and PHS, gardeners shared a meal of minestrone soup with grated Parmesan cheese and fresh apples, donated by Church of the Redeemer. The vegetarian meal was a huge hit, and after the formalities, the gardeners spent the remaining part of the evening sharing their experiences as they looked ahead to 2016.

Growing Together is a communal project in the true sense of the word. In addition to tending their individual plots, gardeners commit to attending at least four meetings per season, as well as providing ten hours of communal work in the garden’s shared space. Not only does this ensure that Growing Together remains a welcoming space for all. It provides an opportunity for people to get to know one another, share experiences and create community. Meetings and workdays will continue monthly through the fall.

First Growing Together Workday of the Year

To say that our gardeners were eager to kick off the year is an understatement. Well before the official start of the April 16 work day, families arrived excited to discover their plot assignments and get to work. In short order, they could be found clearing and preparing their gardens – topping off soil, pulling weeds, planting and covering their spaces with Agri-bond to keep young plants warm. PHS supplied the soil, materials to build new garden plots and seedlings.

Volunteers were also on hand to assist, including a group from the YMCA Y Achievers, who donated pretzels to the hardworking gardeners. Broad Street Ministry was also on site with a group of volunteers from the Union Theological Seminary in Virgina who were interested in learning what NSC does in order to do something similar. Their efforts clearing trash, filling new plots and pulling weeds were central to the day’s accomplishments.

Bringing People Together

Even as new garden neighbors are getting to know one another, a great deal of knowledge-sharing is already taking place. During the garden workday, more than one first-timer could be heard drawing on the insight of more experienced growers nearby.  This kind of connection is one of the most inspiring outcomes of Growing Together. As the season continues, we look forward to more community-building among the diverse Philadelphians who call this their garden home.

We welcome the Growing Together community, and look forward to another great season growing together.

–Jenn Hall, NSC Volunteer, Writer

Growing Home Spring Cleaning: A Volunteer’s Perspective

At 10 a.m. on a cool spring morning, the line between seasons is rendered visible at the Growing Home Gardens’ two sites on Emily Street. Shade cuts a long shadow across the waiting expanse of garden plots as the sun makes its way upward. A small group huddles around a picnic table, pouring coffee and putting on work gloves. Across the span of an hour, more and more people arrive. The chill will disappear as sunlight erases shadow and we get to work.

In just a few short months, the gardens will be a space of verdant green, brought to life through the expertise of Bhutanese, Burmese Chin and Burmese Karen refugees, along with their South Philly neighbors. First, though, there is much to be done: cleaning the plots of winter debris, manmade and natural; pulling weeds, ever persistent; creating mulch pathways from here to there; preparing the soil for planting.

This is why I am here. A volunteer with limited gardening experience, I want to be useful—to not get in the way of the dozens of refugees who arrive eager to get these waiting spaces up and running. Such fears are quickly allayed as the plots’ owners and those of us here for the day settle into a smooth division of labor.

As people tend their gardens—children and grandparents and everyone in between—I clear debris. Working, we share smiles and pathways, if limited language. From plot to plot, there are previews of what will come in the form of plant markers from the year before: mustard greens and Early Girl tomatoes, green onions and peppers of every stripe. I find myself wondering what dishes will emerge from the soil, which at this point in the season is defined solely by its potential.

The families, too, seem to cast their thoughts forward, ready to plant seeds, still a few weeks off. They cluster around the NSC staff, asking questions. They line up to see if additional plots are available, demand high. The impact of the program is rendered visible—it is tangible—as the sun reaches center sky and warms the block. There is a sense of presence among the refugee families as they work, their agricultural knowledge apparent.

Filling bags, I am humbled to help in my small way, circling and listening as the day continues. When I leave, near lunchtime, it is clear the work will continue on, a hum of conversation and labor ushering in the life that waits to be drawn from each plot.

View more pictures from the Spring Cleaning.

Spring Cleaning at Growing Home Garden, March 21, 2016 in partnership with Hamilton College Students and One Book One Philadelphia volunteers with support from the Department of Parks and Recreation: Farm Philly Program.

–Jenn Hall, NSC Volunteer, Writer

That’s A Wrap!

By: Christian Przybylek

Gardens Coordinator, Nationalities Service Center

On behalf of all of us at the Nationalities Service Center, I am excited to announce the wrap of a great first season at Growing Together Gardens. In just three and a half months, we have signed up over 70 individuals and families representing five major language groups who have come together in growing a diversity of fresh, nutritious produce. If you go by the gardens today, one at 25th and Dickinson and the other at 8th and Emily, you will see hundreds of raised beds bursting with fresh, organic, healthy produce. Even though we got a late start, we have exceeded all expectations laid out in the beginning of the year and are excited as we begin thinking about next year. We are thankful for the Redeemer Community’s support throughout this project and are excited about the possibilities of what we might achieve in the future together.

In our next growing season, we plan on pursuing further improvements at the site, including the building of more raised beds, which will open up even more space for new gardeners, and laying out a common crop area that will be tended by everyone and open to everyone to pick from as needed. Although we are wrapping things up for winter, that does not mean we are done growing yet. You may see gardeners growing and harvesting into December depending on the weather.

For those in the Redeemer Community who currently have a raised bed, you will be able to sign up again next spring. We will be announcing dates for sign ups in March 2016 for those who don’t yet have a raised bed. If you are considering signing up, I would encourage you to stop by the gardens after church and talk with the growers about their experiences so far. Thank you again to all of our supporters for a great first growing season, we will see you again in the Spring!

Summer Updates from the Gardens from the Project Coordinator

Growing Together Gardens Map

My name is Christian, and I serve as the Nationalities Service Center’s coordinator for Growing Together Gardens. Our garden has made tremendous progress over the last month. If you have driven along 26th street in-between the intersections of Reed and Dickinson streets recently, you have likely seen Growing Together Gardens. If you have driven by along 25th street you may have only seen weeds, but through the month of September we have welcomed over 700 volunteers from Villanova University, Boeing, Fuel The Cure and gardeners worked hard to remove most of the weeds, leveled the ground and build 15 new raised garden beds. We will be plowing over the unused area once we clear the rubble, which will help keep them down and under control as we move forward. We are thankful to all the volunteers and PHS Staff who came out this past month.

In case you may be unfamiliar with Growing Together Gardens, I would like to provide you with a brief overview. We began building on the empty lot at 2500 Reed Street in August 2014. The gardens are the result of a new partnership between Nationalities Service Center (NSC), a leading refugee resettlement and immigrant services organization, and Church of the Redeemer Baptist Church, who is leasing the land, along with the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society as our technical assistance provider. The primary goal of the gardens project includes bringing together neighbors with recently arrived refugees who now call Point Breeze and South Philadelphia home. We also aim to provide a safe space for neighbors and newcomers to come together in growing healthy, nutritious produce.

This past year has been very busy, as groups of volunteers and our partners worked hard to transform the site. We have logged over 10,000 volunteer hours since last August, clearing debris from the old factory that previously stood there and leveling the land for raised garden beds. We have also made major site improvements. By working with our partners, we secured funds to build about 300 raised beds (each bed costs approximately $175 to build, with resources to build an additional 200 soon), installed a $45,000 waterline and trucked in about $30,000 of fresh dirt and compost to fill the beds. Each gardener who signed up this year also received free starter seedlings, seeds and protective nets. These starter kits are something we would like to continue to provide in the future.

If you have time to visit the gardens, you will see a healthy variety of fall crops sprouting, including kale, kohlrabi, mustard greens, collard greens, scallions, radish, basil (a summer crop that snuck in) and more. We have 3 growing seasons in Philadelphia: spring, summer and fall, so we will be able to grow from April through November.

We currently have 51 households now gardening with plenty of room to expand. If you are interested in signing up for a plot, we will be opening this process again this coming April, so stay tuned for updates. We have invested a lot of time, sweat and funding into this project and are excited to share space for growing fresh, healthy produce and strengthening ties between newcomers and their neighbors.

NSC’s Growing Together Gardens is one of two gardening projects that we operate. Our other site, Growing Home Gardens, is also in South Philadelphia, at the corner of 8th and Emily Street (1 block north of Snyder Avenue).

What Are We Currently Growing?


Crop Mapping:

Crop Mapping