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

Growing Together Thrives

Thanks to generous support from the City Harvest Growers Alliance, a project of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS), Growing Together Garden hosted the first plant distribution this past Sunday! Lisa from PHS even provided a planting demonstration. Our gardeners are very excited to begin growing their crops, and we can’t wait to see these gardens flourish!

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To learn more about the City Harvest Growers Alliance, check out the link below:

Want to see more? We will have additional photos from the 2015 season posted in our gallery section soon!

Interested in getting involved either as a volunteer or by donating? Please feel free to contact…

Christian Przybylek, Community Integration Specialist (M-F, 9a to 5p)
(215) 893-8400 ext. 1560

Growing Together Garden Opening!

We are pleased to announce that Growing Together Gardens is officially open! Last evening we met with nearly 50  interested gardeners from the Karen, Chin, Burmese, Congolese and Bhutanese newcomer communities and their Point Breeze neighbors and signed them up for garden plots for the Fall 2015 growing season. The excitement was palpable, and though the pictures hardly capture that feeling, they come pretty close. Check out the photos below!

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The gardeners will receive their plot assignments and plants this upcoming Sunday, August 9th, from 10am to 1pm. In the meantime, we will be working hard to continue cleaning up the space!

Want to see more? We will have additional photos from the 2015 season posted in our gallery section soon!

Interested in getting involved either as a volunteer or by donating? Please feel free to contact…

Christian Przybylek, Community Integration Specialist (M-F, 9a to 5p)
(215) 893-8400 ext. 1560