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Thursday, April 8, 2010

Local Gardens Elevate Community

The word Trailblazer and Utica are rarely mentioned in the same sentence. But when it comes to civic (city sponsored) Community Gardens we can proudly claim Trailblazer status.

Utica is the first city of its size in Central New York to donate land and resources toward the building and maintenance of Community Gardens that have successfully provided food and nutritional education to the poor.

"It is great so far, a lot of hard work, but we need more funding to take this to the next level" shared Cassandra Harris Lockwood, CEO of For The Good Inc. and one of the forces behind the original community garden on Linwood Pl..

"We started out with an idea and a donation from a philanthropist (Richard Pertz)...that got us going" she explained.

With a small donation to work with, all they needed was land. The newly elected Mayor of Utica, David Roefaro, came to the rescue and donated land (vacant lots) and the first garden was started.
Even in this climate of fiscal conservatism and huge cuts to City services Utica saw the value of a small investment in this program.

"The results were positive from the outset".

"We have developed a positive relationship with a lot of community partners" Lockwood was referring to the many other non-profits and Colleges that have gotten involved with the gardens since they started three years ago.

The number of gardens has increased with the participation in the community. With the cooperation of the City of Utica, For The Good has added two more locations : Jay St and Noyes.
"Jay St was a gift from Wal-Mart...they provided the wood and expertise to get it built" Harris-Lockwood said. "But we need this type of commitment from the philanthropists"she said highlighting the irony of a non grassroots (some might say anti-Mom & Pop) Organization like Wal-Mart willing to offer support.

She listed the many groups that have offered money or 'in-kind' support.
"Proctor High School Youth Costruction Initiative helped build raised beds, The Community Foundation provided resources to build a shed, Cornell Co-operative Extension provides seeds, RCIL does a healthy cooking and nutrition class and The Mohawk Valley Resource Center for Refugees provides people...there are many more".
The Linwood Garden houses 36 raised beds that keep the roots of the vegetables away from potentially dangerous elements in the soil. The Jay St Garden is an exact replica of Linwood that was built last year. Noyes will be the third installed in consecutive years. There is also an heirloom garden donated by Mohawk Valley Chamber of Commerce President Frank Elias on Genesee St. next door to Utica Roasting Company.

"Noyes will house 30 beds this year but we will have room for up to 80" Harris-Lockwood said. What will be missing is money. Because For The Good Inc is the main facilitator of the gardens; the technical expertise such as the layout, number of raised beds, crop rotation and simple daily maintenance has been handled solely by Harris Lockwood and volunteers of For The Good Inc.

"We are getting to a point where the responsibility (of The garden's maintenance) is beyond what we are willing to ask someone to do (for free)" Harris-Lockwood admitted. "We have applied for multiple grants at a much higher level".

Harris-Lockwood was very clear about what is needed. "Added funds will simply keep the Gardens operating ...we are in danger (financially)...we need help".

Harris Lockwood will be taking her message to SUNY Morrisville on Earth Day (April 22). Her message will be heard by the appropriate audience- College Students. The idea is catching on. Harris Lockwood has also offered her model to the people of Haiti, through Senator Kristin Gillibrand, to apply these methods in their rebuilding efforts.
In many bad ways, Utica is leading the pack in Central New York. But no one else is doing this. For once we are in first place for doing something for the good.

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