Photo by Erika Fleegle
Flowers bloomed outside the Manchester community garden during the dedication ceremony on June 26, 2015.
By Erika Fleegle
From a typically quiet street corner in Manchester, reggae music flows. Locals drift in and around, admiring flower beds and mingling with neighbors. While the blossoming garden in question is no doubt a sign of summer, it certainly serves a larger purpose.
On Friday, June 26, the Manchester Growing Together Community Garden opened its gates to area residents for an art installation and dedication ceremony. The garden, now in its fourth year, initially began as a project associated with the neighboring Manchester Elementary School.
“It was intended to be an outdoor classroom,” project coordinator Lisa Freeman said. “We add a new layer to it every year.”
This year, the garden was dedicated to a neighbor of Freeman’s, Devin McShane, who passed away in an accident last year. The Freemans and the McShane family hoped that the garden and its associated children’s programming would serve as a reminder of Devin’s legacy to culture and education.
The garden itself takes up most of the street corner, bordered by trees and low fences. Tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and collard greens sprout from twenty raised flower beds, along with varieties of marigolds and petunias.
Education was a key theme of the evening. As the Truth and Rites Reggae band filled the air with mellow notes, Manchester youngsters were led in a variety of group activities from crafting to screenprinting to exercising. The big draw, however, was the cooking class. Volunteers helped get kids suited up in aprons and gloves, and gave them some basic cooking lessons. Using fresh ingredients, the kids whipped up Cobb salad skewers to enjoy with their families. Looking on as the kids layered romaine lettuce, hard-boiled egg and tomato among other ingredients, local resident Joe Kennedy commented on the progress the garden had made since its opening.
“I love it,” he said. “I’ve seen it in all it’s stages. I think it’s a great asset to the community. It really brings people together. You don’t see that often.”
Wallace Freeman also elaborated upon the garden’s place in the community.
“We want to give the kids a hands-on approach to produce and nutrition,” Wallace said. “We feel that…it creates an avenue of success for them. Kids love it.”
At this point, the kids had finished their culinary creations and were clearly proud of what they’d done. For some, it was the first time tasting an avocado or handling the fresh produce and seeing how all the ingredients fit together.
“This gives the kids a chance to get outside. They’re never out like this,” Lisa noted. “They’re never to far from their homes. You never see this kind of mixing of young and old, of black and white.”
Kids aren’t the only ones blossoming from their experience with the garden. In addition to working with Manchester Elementary, the Freemans have cultivated the garden alongside men from the prison and kids with special needs in an effort to educate and bring a sense of balance back into their lives. Help from neighbors to keep the garden weeded and watered is also appreciated.
Throughout the rest of the summer, the garden will host children’s programming in the form of summer camp-style activities four days out of the week.