Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Refugee gardens

I spent a delightful morning this week at a senior center in Logan that's run by the Nationalities Service Center. It's held in the landlocked basement of Holy Trinity Bethlehem Presbyterian Church but the seniors have a community garden about 10 blocks away on the lawn at Our Lady of Hope Church on North Broad Street. (The pastor, a Filipino, is a gardener himself.) Long story short, the gardeners here, with some exceptions, are refugees and immigrants from Southeast Asia. Last summer, they bought raised beds, mulch and soil with money from a state nutrition grant, and collected seeds they either brought with them to this country or were given. They're already planning their second season. They entertained me with stories of the different vegetables and herbs they like to grow and cook with, and it was wonderful to see and hear, not just because their story is so inspiring, but because they'll be putting their first seedlings in the ground in early March, just a few weeks away. These so-called refugee gardens offer all the usual benefits of community gardens - camaraderie, fresh air and exercise, delicious vegetables. They also give these folks a chance to feel proud of their national identities and to show off the knowledge they have about foods most of us wouldn't know a thing about. (Bitter melon, for example.) As Tara Schwartzendruber-Landis, senior center program director and driver of the garden, points out, most of these seniors were farmers, agricultural workers or gardeners living off the land in their home countries. They know how to do this, and it must feel great to be doing it again after, in some cases, years spent holed up in a row house in North Philly. Think I'll stop by again in a couple of months ...

Refugee gardens

I spent a delightful morning this week at a senior center in Logan that's run by the Nationalities Service Center. It's held in the landlocked basement of Holy Trinity Bethlehem Presbyterian Church but the seniors have a community garden about 10 blocks away on the lawn at Our Lady of Hope Church on North Broad Street. (The pastor, a Filipino, is a gardener himself.) Long story short, the gardeners here, with some exceptions, are refugees and immigrants from Southeast Asia. Last summer, they bought raised beds, mulch and soil with money from a state nutrition grant, and collected seeds they either brought with them to this country or were given. They're already planning their second season. They entertained me with stories of the different vegetables and herbs they like to grow and cook with, and it was wonderful to see and hear, not just because their story is so inspiring, but because they'll be putting their first seedlings in the ground in early March, just a few weeks away. These so-called refugee gardens offer all the usual benefits of community gardens - camaraderie, fresh air and exercise, delicious vegetables. They also give these folks a chance to feel proud of their national identities and to show off the knowledge they have about foods most of us wouldn't know a thing about. (Bitter melon, for example.) As Tara Schwartzendruber-Landis, senior center program director and driver of the garden, points out, most of these seniors were farmers, agricultural workers or gardeners living off the land in their home countries. They know how to do this, and it must feel great to be doing it again after, in some cases, years spent holed up in a row house in North Philly. Think I'll stop by again in a couple of months ... 

Inquirer Staff Writer
About this blog
Ginny Smith, a Philadelphia native, joined the Inquirer at 1985. After stints as both reporter and editor in the city and suburbs, she’s been happily writing – and learning - about gardening full time since 2006. She’s won two silver medals of achievement from the national Garden Writers Association and in 2011, Bartram’s Garden honored her with its Green Exemplar award for her stories about “the region’s deeply rooted horticultural history, cultural attractions and bountiful gardens.” She plays in her own – mostly - bountiful garden in East Falls. Reach Virginia A. at vsmith@phillynews.com .

Virginia A. Smith Inquirer Staff Writer
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