Peanut Planting in the Bronx

July 14, 2011 at 3:42 pm Leave a comment

Drew Gardens in the Bronx

©Photo by Margarida Correia (caption at bottom of post)

A clutch of enthusiastic gardeners — trowels and soil scrapers in hand — readied for the special planting that was about to take place at Drew Gardens in the West Farms neighborhood of the Bronx.  One by one, they squatted by the side of a just-tilled garden bed and began to tuck peanuts into the ground.

Angel Valeri Nogue beamed.  The peanuts, she blurted with pride, were “brought here to New York” from her grandmother’s plantation in West Cameroon.

“I used to stay on my grandmother’s plantation in the springtime for six months to help,” said Nogue, a refugee with the International Rescue Committee, a nonprofit organization that helps resettle refugees, asylees and victims of human trafficking.

Nogue’s face brightened as she recalled childhood memories of her grandmother’s plantation, a refuge from the stresses of city life in Cameroon.  Now Drew Gardens is her refuge.

She and the other refugees in her group volunteer once a week at the garden, weeding, planting and watering community garden beds.  They also have their own garden plots where they grow food for themselves and their families.

A big part of the IRC program is to help refugees adjust to a new culture, said Jennifer Plewka, director of the Greening Department at Phipps Community Development Center, a nonprofit that provides educational, vocational, and community-development programs for residents in the Bronx and Manhattan.  Phipps Community Development Center funds Drew Gardens and its myriad community-outreach programs.

The 2.5-acre garden has 40 plots, each tended by different community groups such as the IRC and individual garden members.  While the garden grows everything from peanuts to garlic, cucumbers and leafy greens, its goal is much broader than food production.

“We strive to teach people how to grow food organically and care for their environment, but as leader of this project for the last six years, I can tell you what the garden really does – it develops, nurtures and strengthens the community,” said Plewka.

Community groups that tend beds at Drew Gardens range from schoolchildren and senior citizens to people with special needs.

Plewka, for example, works with 123 Head Start schoolchildren, teaching them about the environment, gardening and nutrition.  She meets with them, six at a time, twice a week at neighboring Krystal Garden, where the children have assigned class garden plots.

“I got all my little guys to eat salad,” said Plewka, the former children’s educator or “Senior Explainer” at the New York Botanical Garden, of her young charges.  “It’s so important to reach children and get them in love with nature.”

The community’s senior citizens are also big fans of the garden.  A group of committed seniors tend several beds that grow food exclusively for a small farmers market outside the garden. The market is open Wednesdays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Though small, the farmers market expands the limited produce choices in the neighborhood.   The produce offerings of the local supermarket, Plewka noted, is not turned over as quickly as it should.

It’s in subtle ways, though, that the garden nurtures and heals the community the most.  Drew Gardens is home to memorials to cherished gardeners, including Ms. Hetty, an 82-year-old woman who died in 2009.  The tree planted in her memory includes a simple placard that reads “Ms. Hetty’s Way.”  Another more poignant memorial — a bed of purple pansies — was dedicated to a gardener’s young granddaughter.

A giant sequoia tree near the two memorials holds special significance for Plewka.  She planted the tree — then just a seedling — when she started at Drew Gardens six years ago.

“The big guy,” she says, symbolizes the growth of the garden, which has grown in programs and participants.   There were only six garden beds and one after-school program when she started.

“This work that I do,” said Plewka, “is so great.  I wouldn’t trade it for anything else in the world.”

Caption for photo above: A group of refugees with the International Rescue Committee plant peanuts at Drew Gardens in the West Farms neighborhood of the Bronx.

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Entry filed under: City Farmers, Community Gardens, Farmers Market, Global Issues, Local Food Production, Urban Agriculture. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , .

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