Andrea Marquis, who manages the Crafton Community Farm, has noticed an upward trend in participation and excitement for the community garden. For a manager of a community space, this is great news since keeping up with a big space without a lot of help can be a daunting task. Andrea led efforts to start the Crafton Community Farm in 2014 and has been managing the garden group since then. She involved fellow community members to voice support at the borough meetings and started the Facebook page to get the garden off the ground. The community members now divide the tasks and contribute depending on their strengths. As with any other venture, people come and go, but the community garden continues to function with the initiative of community leaders like Andrea.
She shares her reflections and thoughts in this piece and invites folks to get involved if they feel inclined. Additionally, Crafton Community Garden received funding from the Sustainability Fund which will be open for applications from August 1- September 1.
Like many Grow Pittsburgh community gardens, we at Crafton Community Farm had a lot of interest and community participation in the early days. There were 30 or so people attending our first planning meetings, and when we asked for help with initial workdays, 40 or more people of all ages showed up to shovel soil and mulch as we built the garden beds. Even before the garden existed, we could count on 10 or more people coming to support the idea at Borough Council meetings. I was so excited about the possibility of a community garden in Crafton that I talked about it to anyone who made eye contact with me, including neighbors and people at the grocery store. 2015 was our first growing season, and we had a core group of at least 15 people giving different kinds of help. One person handled our Facebook page, we had a graphic designer and a PR person helping with flyers and announcements, artists painted signs, one person consistently took photos, we had a dedicated composter, and everyone else was hands-on with planting, weeding, watering, and harvesting. In the first year, there was even a small group who would meet at the local food pantry kitchen once a week to clean, package, and label food that we distributed to food pantry clients and delivered to a local high-rise housing plan. The local library was a great partner for us, the borough and public works were very supportive, and scout troops reached out to help us with special projects. We had a very well-rounded team.
After CCF graduated from Grow Pittsburgh’s support, we began to see decreasing participation. Some people moved out of the area, others had children and looked to pare down their commitments, kids who had been very enthusiastic volunteers moved on to other interests and I started working full time again. We still attracted new volunteers, and we were still able to fulfill our vision to be “A real, simple garden that welcomes everyone, responsibly grows, generously gives, and endlessly educates.” The next year, one of our main garden volunteers decided to retire, and everyone else stepped up to fill in the gaps. We continued our monthly meetings/potlucks, and had several group workdays throughout the growing season.
Then the pandemic made things tricky. We did not feel safe to get together as a group for either meetings or workdays, so volunteers picked days to go work at the garden independently, and we communicated mostly through email. The Library was closed for a while, although the food pantry needed food more than ever. We made it work with a smaller volunteer base, but outreach continued to be our biggest challenge. The Borough Council had new members who were not present during the creation of the garden and for my part, I had not continued visiting their meetings to report on the garden’s successes and thank them for their continued support.
I am happy to say that this year we had a little breakthrough. I volunteered to serve on the Library’s Board of Trustees, and I worked with library staff to come up with joint programming, which would serve to get more visitors to the garden. The library is a hub of information and resources for our community and other neighborhoods surrounding it that do not have their own library. Just having flyers at the front desk has been a big help. We also started a monthly garden tour and kids’ storytime at the garden. The first one was a big success and after listening to a couple of stories and singing songs with the Children’s Librarian, the kids looked for bugs and worms with little magnifying glasses and even pulled weeds. One of the older girls stayed and helped me spread compost for a couple more hours. She said it was so much better than staying home and looking at her phone all day! She said she might ask some of her friends to come work in the garden with her on an ongoing basis. The garden tour had 6 participants, and one of them offered to help me with our Facebook page and photographs.
The same week, I had a plant and seed giveaway table at the Free Library of Carnegie’s Earth day celebration, got contact info from 8 people who might want to volunteer, and arranged to host a teenager camp run by the Islamic center in Carnegie, which is a neighbor to Crafton. I also presented to the local Rotary club, which increased awareness of the garden and possibly cultivated some new stakeholders who can help in different ways. A couple of weeks ago, I was working in the garden with another couple of volunteers and a man with his daughter asked if they could be involved this year. His family is from Nepal and he is going to introduce us to some traditional food and medicinal crops. We also got a Sustainability Grant from Grow Pittsburgh last fall for new crop identification signs and other informational signage, with our contact info on how to get involved.
One of the older girls stayed and helped me spread compost for a couple more hours. She said it was so much better than staying home and looking at her phone all day!
A couple weeks ago, I was working in the garden with another couple volunteers and a man with his daughter asked if they could be involved this year. His family is from Nepal and he is going to introduce us to some traditional food and medicinal crops.
I think part of why things turned around is when you do volunteer activities yourself, outside of the garden, you meet other people who do a lot of volunteer activities, and are interested in good causes. Last night the Library had its Summer Reading Kickoff at the park within sight of the garden. We also had our first “planting day” of the new children’s garden area and had the second monthly storytime in the garden and open garden tour. Because people who love their library and reading and learning tend to also be interested in gardening, several families came in for a tour and it was great to be able to welcome both kids and adults. One family who visited us last year while we were working in the garden and they were playing in the playground came back in, and the older kids remembered tasting anise hyssop the year before and were thrilled to see how other foods were grown. Their mom is very interested in gardening but has very little experience. Some of our other volunteers told her how much they had learned through volunteering that they were able to apply at their home garden, so now we are arranging for this new family to get involved. The Crafton library draws patrons from Ingram, Sheraden, and other parts of near Pittsburgh city neighborhoods, so I connected with several families I would never have met otherwise.