Editor’s Note: This article was originally written by Aaron Laramee for FoodiEconomy, an Ithaca College student multimedia journalism project. It is republished with permission.
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ITHACA, NY – The fragrance of flowers filled the air, and the sun beat down on the damp brow of a handful of gardeners, on their hands and knees, working the soil in front of them. Joel Thomas, who has been gardening with Project Growing Hope for a year now, is one of those gardeners.
“Project Growing Hope provides tools, mulch, and compost that make it easy to garden away from home. I’ve been a longtime gardener and can’t imagine summers without homegrown produce,” said Thomas.
PGH is a membership organization that promotes self sustainability and personal responsibility through the cultivation of plots in a community gardening space, as well as other smaller projects within the community.
President of PGH, Judith Barker, says one her favorite aspects of the gardens is the community atmosphere that it offers.
“I find that involvement in a community organization is good for my mental health, and I would add my soul,” she said.
Barker has been involved with PGH since 2009, and after retiring from teaching at Ithaca College in 2013, she decided to become a board member and was elected president of PGH in the fall of 2014.
Barker praised the positive community atmosphere that PGH offers new members, as well as veterans of the community garden.
“PGH offers the opportunity for people to develop new skills and confidence in a supportive environment…,” she said. “What is most amazing to me, is working with a diverse group of people to manage the gardens in an atmosphere that is cooperative rather than based on hierarchy.”
Barker said she hopes to see more efforts made by the Town of Ithaca to become more efficient and environmentally conscious, and not just members of the community.
“The community and the city government could actually support and promote garden areas where more people could grow some food,” she said.
Gardner Michael Smith has been involved in PGH since 2005. He said he believes one of the biggest benefits of PGH is the opportunity to be more self-sustainable, but knows there is a long way to go before total self sustainability can be achieved.
“There is no choice really,” Smith said. “Either we figure out how to do this or my grandchildren — if I have any — will watch human civilization as we know it unravel.”
He said he would like to see PGH make some positive changes in the future to help create more opportunities for its members as well as the City of Ithaca, such as becoming more self sustainable.
“[Opportunities such as] expansion of the community gardening sites in town and eventual partnerships with community kitchen, canning, and food preservation organizations,” Smith said.
Despite the success of Project Growing Hope, community organizations such as these do not come without their challenges. Barker claims that one of the organization’s biggest issues is securing a space for their gardening.
“More than anything, I hope that we can finally obtain land security and not have to spend so much energy fighting to keep the land we use,” she said
Thomas said he sees gardening as much more than passing the time.
“I view gardening less as a method of self sustainment and more as lifestyle improvement,” he said. “Most of what I grow in my garden are vegetable varieties that even very good grocers don’t offer. From a business perspective, it isn’t practical for the grocery store to, for example, sell 20 varieties of heirloom tomato. This is where home gardening comes in.”
Thomas said he believes that PGH building a stronger relationship with the community would be mutually beneficial.
“I hope to see the arrangement PGH has with the City of Ithaca for the land we use improved to ensure the gardens have a long term future and permanently protected site,” he said.
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