Community Gardens

By Suzan French

Sprouting Up Throughout The Valley

Perhaps it is the rise in popularity of farmers’ markets and organic foods, the explosion of the green movement or a desire to reconnect with nature and the outdoors. Whatever the reason, a renewed interest in cultivating the land has sprouted, with community gardens popping up throughout the area. Educational, peace and urban gardens chock-full of vegetables, herbs, flowers and rocks have all found homes in the Lehigh Valley.

A garden is almost like a piece of artwork, only with live plants and animals. They are paintings come to life

Nearly every community throughout the Valley has at least one community garden that is open to the public. Allentown, Bethlehem and Easton each have at least four gardens; Nazareth, Emmaus, Whitehall and Coopersburg have one. In Lower Macungie Township, residents snapped up 71 plots so quickly at the Bogie Lane community garden that township officials implemented a second community garden, which could potentially hold up to 100 plots, at the former site of Camp Olympic. South Whitehall Township has the area’s only formal “Peace Garden”, located on the grounds of Jordan United Church of Christ.

“A garden is almost like a piece of artwork, only with live plants and animals. They are paintings come to life,” says church member Bill Wehr, who spearheaded the project. “Peace Gardens promote the idea of working for peace on many levels.”

Five distinct sections comprise Jordan’s Peace Garden: the Garden Entrance Area; Rock of Ages, which includes a rock garden, Bonsai garden under development and Boulder Trail; Circle of Fire, featuring a fire pit and fireside seating; Spring Hill rose garden; and Vesper Veil with its biblical plants, Peace plow sculpture and a “Peace Pole”, engraved with a common peace prayer in four languages. Points of interest include a gazebo, log benches, statues and ornaments, memorial benches and beds, swing, bridges, a cross, altars, arches, birdhouses and feeders.

One of the oldest community gardens, the recently reopened Stonehedge Gardens, is heralded by younger organizations as a model of motivation and inspiration. Located in Tamaqua, just north of Allentown, Stonehedge Gardens is part garden, part artist colony and part education and wellness center situated on 28 sprawling acres. Run by a board of directors, many from the Lehigh Valley, Stonehedge features a library, gift shop, artists’ studios and acres of lush flora and fauna.

The area’s newest initiative, still in its infancy, is the Saucon Valley Community Gardens Association, born from the malcontent of one of its founders.

“I’d been an RA (residents’ assistant) for five years at college where my primary job was community builder. I missed that sense of community after graduating and moving back home. Everyone had their full time jobs and I felt isolated,” says Brett Haymaker, 24, co-founder of Saucon Valley Community Gardens Association. “I sent a plea out to my friends asking if we could put our minds together toward a common goal to change things. To my surprise, almost everyone responded.” And the idea of a community garden was born.

In rapid-fire time, Haymaker and Saucon Valley Community Gardens Association co-founder Matt Rasich, 23, enlisted other members for a brainstorming session, and within two weeks, both men along a handful of other members were presenting their idea to the Hellertown Borough Council. Council members, though naturally concerned about important issues such as tax law and liability, were enthusiastic and encouraging.

“After the meeting, we talked with a few council members and the mayor [of Hellertown] who expressed their support. Then we were approached by the borough’s zoning enforcement officer who discussed with us the locations we were considering, pointing out obstacles and offering alternatives that we hadn’t even considered,” says Haymaker.

Haymaker and Rasich are now seeking 501c3 status, which would smooth the process with Hellertown Council, but could take upwards of six months. In the meantime, the group is working on various garden projects, including one at Lower Saucon Church of Christ in the Borough and a child-friendly, educational garden at Hellertown Public Library where children could touch, smell, see, hear and even eat what grows there.

“Our overall goal is to reestablish a local agricultural infrastructure–one garden at a time,” concludes Haymaker.

A list and map of established and budding community gardens throughout the area can be found at sunLV.org, the website of Sustainable Urban Neighborhoods of the Lehigh Valley, a project of the Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley. The site also provides resources and information for those interested in gardening and community building.

Jordan United Church of Christ Peace Garden
1837 Church Road, Allentown, PA 18104Office: 610-395-2218
Fax: 610-395-2688
jordanucc.org
[email protected]
Saucon Valley Community Gardens Association
[email protected]
Stonehedge Gardens
51 Dairy Rd, Tamaqua, PA 18252-9453
570-386-4276
[email protected]
Suzan French is a nationally published freelance writer and owner of FlackShack, a PR firm based in the Lehigh Valley.

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