Volume 3: December 2010

Spotlight on the Creating Landscapes for Families’ Community Garden at the Ackerman Farm

written by Erin Sweeney ‘10 Garden Coordinator

Creating Landscapes for Families at the Ackerman Farm

“ZUCCHINI, lettuce, ZUCCHINI, peas! First you have to dig. Then you can plant. And then you have to water every day.” These first two lines to a song by Ethen Morehead, age 8, give life to the entire growing season he witnessed over 23 weeks this summer. Ethen and his parents were one of 25 families who participated in the 2010 pilot season of Creating Landscapes for Families’ Community Garden at Ackerman Farm. This amazing community garden began with a vision to provide local families with a place to spend time together and experience nature, gardening, healthy eating and community. Local farmer Bob Ackerman donated over 30 acres of land off of Kennedy Hill Road to the project, and provided soil upkeep and garden management, as well as a pavilion for gathering times.

The concept for the garden was born out of collaboration between Creating Landscapes, Crawford Central School District, Allegheny College and Second District Elementary. Families were recruited early in the spring through Second District Elementary School, as well as other Creating Landscapes satellite programs. The families, many of whom had little gardening experience, found themselves first clearing the land, placing donated seedlings and thousands of seed packets into the ground, and tending them through the hot summer months. A group of stakeholders, made up of interested community members, program leaders, and parent representatives met twice per month to evaluate and guide the development of the garden project as it expanded across the season. The families and garden stakeholders selected the produce grown, choosing some popular items such as potatoes and tomatoes, as well as exotic Japanese eggplants and Cinderella squash. Families came at least four times per month on Tuesday and Thursday evenings and Saturday mornings, to weed, water, and participate in educational and fun programs presented by various members of the community. Topics ranged from rock formations on the land to medicinal herb use to monarch butterfly migration and release. Allegheny college students put in volunteer hours across the summer as well as through the fall with Service Saturdays and worked alongside the families first to weed and water, and then to harvest the bounty from the garden. The harvest was split evenly among all participating families, stakeholders and volunteers at the garden site, and then transported to John’s Live Bait, a local business that provided space for individual produce boxes that the garden participants filled several times a week. As the garden grew in size and capacity, it became the center of a community of people contributing to its success in a myriad of ways. In response to Ethen’s song, which highlights the massive quantities of the common veggie the garden produced, the first grade teacher and family liaison Joyce Klasen at Second District maintains, “We grew a whole lot more than zucchini”.

By the end of the season, vital connections were formed with more than 50 local businesses, organizations and individual collaborators. To thank all the contributors who made the project possible, the families and stakeholders held their first annual Harvest Dinner on October 3rd. The dinner featured six soup varieties made by families using produce from the garden as well as an array of other potluck items. The children created artwork, poetry and short books about their experiences in the garden, and shared some of their thoughts and thanks with the crowd. Although it was a rainy and cold afternoon, the pavilion provided a warm and welcoming gathering space and spirits were high as the garden participants shared their successes from their first year with a larger community. The season wrapped up on Make a Difference Day as participating families and college and community volunteers worked together to “put the garden to rest”, returning the acre of lush fruits and vegetables to its original form – a patch of tilled, rich soil awaiting next year’s spring planting!