Interested in learning about what green infrastructure is, why it’s important, and how you can help your neighborhood and your city by starting a green infrastructure project where you live? Start here!
Sometimes a community garden just needs a little extra TLC, and this is one of those times for the Bryant Hill Community Garden, in the Bronx. One of only two community gardens in the South Bronx, and an easy 5 minute walk away for half of all Hunts Point residents – whose neighborhood is a food desert with asthma-triggering air quality – it’s desperately needed, and brimming with potential. Unfortunately, its vegetation and stone pathways, battered by years of rainstorms, are also brimming with debris.
Dawn Glasco, a Community Engagement Coordinator who works with children, has lived on East 76th street, Cleveland, for the past 10 years. And right outside her window, across the street from her home, all those years, had sat a large vacant lot — run down, overgrown with tall grass that the city wasn’t mowing, and littered with trash. A couple of years ago, Glasco started to feel ready to do something about it, summoned her courage, and began going door to door, asking neighbors if they’d join a group effort to beautify the street and turn the lot into an outdoor classroom. She also called the city, asked them to come and mow, and got permission to improve the lot. Glasco’s neighbors were receptive, and so was the city. For her, a door had opened.
Calling all Memphians, neighbors, and friends who care about making a difference for Memphis neighborhoods: the big day is almost upon us! Tomorrow, Saturday, April 11, from 11am to 4pm, the Pinch district in Memphis comes alive with the latest manifestation of beloved community event series MEMFix. And we’ll be there loud and proud, to celebrate the seventy, yes, seventy – Memphis ioby campaigns currently running as part of our MemMatch challenge. Want us to throw some more awesome numbers at you? Don’t mind if we do:
Total raised to date: $98,043
Number of MemMatch campaigns already fully funded: 10
Largest amount raised so far for a MemMatch campaign: $11,105 for Trinity Playground Revitalization
So come find us tomorrow at our pop-up storefront at 358 N. Main Street. We’ll be there with Liveable Memphis and Sweet Potato Baby. Expect games, sweet treats, a book signing by Tactical Urbanism author Mike Lydon, and the chance to learn about some really cool projects coming down the pipeline in your neighborhood.
Here’s the best part: All donations given at MEMFix or online until April 15 will be doubled, thanks to the match! To whet your appetite, read a little bit below about four of the inspiring MemMatch projects.
Strengthening Memphis communities by improving public basketball courts
When Daniel Peterson was a junior in high school living in Putnam County, New York, the middle school in his town renovated its basketball court. No big deal – just your average renovation. But it changed Peterson’s life. His school team, “perennial losers,” as Peterson puts it, had within three years of the renovation started sending kids to play in college. He started practicing by himself every night – getting to know the cops, who always kicked him off at midnight – and soon found himself playing Division 1 in college. Fast-forward a few years and a few careers, and he was stepping into a new role as senior coordinator for health and fitness initiatives for the Memphis Grizzlies. Today, he’s the director of an organization called Project Backboard, which strengthens communities by improving courts. The game has never left him. And it all started with that renovation back in Putnam County. “Having those courts renovated really changed the trajectory of my life,” says Peterson.
A Memphian now, Peterson is focused on making as many improvements as he can to as many public Memphis courts as possible. Even something as minor as painting posts and covering graffiti makes a difference. “My feeling is that if you add minor improvements that draw people out of their cars and off their bikes and out of the house and into the parks, then you start getting that social interaction that strengthens community ties.”
There are 51 public courts in Memphis parks, only 13 of which are striped. Most of them are in pretty bad shape. Peterson is raising money right now to get to 15-20 of those that need stripes, and to replace backboards where possible. Striping and painting an entire court takes only $150, which means that with the current one-for-one match offer, $75 of your cash will go a long, long way. Click here to learn more about the campaign.
Memphis churches coming together to save the bees… and to serve survivors of prostitution and trafficking
Last year, Calvary Episcopal Church in downtown Memphis found itself with a massive bee problem on its hands. The church’s bell tower, it turned out, was teeming with tens of thousands of the little guys. But instead of calling the exterminator, Calvary did something remarkable: they put out a call to other churches in the area, and set to work on finding a new home for the hive. That’s how the “bee garden” at the Church of the Annunciation, in Cordova, was born. The bees now make their home here, on a gorgeous nature trail near a meditation garden and a very special spot that the church calls the Stations of the Cross. The Church of the Annunciation offered the land for free; they simply wanted “to be good stewards of the land,” as Amanda Jemison, director of operations at All Saints Presbyterian, puts it.
Jemison got involved in the project early on. She was particularly excited to learn that the honey produced by the project would be sold locally, and that proceeds would be donated to Lives Worth Saving (LWS), a prostitution intervention program in Memphis. For her, that made the honey that much sweeter. Her reaction to the first honey harvest? “Amazing! I just finished my jar. It was delicious. It’s local honey that’s contributing to a dream and a mission that I just believe in so fully.”
Now Jemison is helping to lead the charge to raise the funds to another three apiaries in the bee garden, which will make five, total. The original two hives produced twenty pounds of honey in their first go-round; the second big harvest will take place in September, and is expected to produce 95 pounds of honey. Click here to help make that possible!
Bringing bats back to Buntyn (Late breaking: This project is now FULLY FUNDED, although donations are still being accepted!)
When Shannon Langellier, Vice President of the East Buntyn Historic District Neighborhood Association, heard about ioby’s MEMmatch challenge, she put out a call to community members, asking how they thought the neighborhood could best be improved. And a very interesting suggestion came in from Caroline Carrico, who works at the local natural history museum. We need more bats, Carrico said. And more homes for bats.
Some of the best insect-eaters around, bats are critical to ecosystems, especially in areas where mosquito-borne illnesses are a problem. That includes Memphis, which is starting to see more and more West Nile virus. And bats are equally critical for their top-notch pollinating skills; organic gardeners love them.
But Carrico was right – bats had all but left the neighborhood of Buntyn. “I’ve lived here 30 years,” explains Langellier, “and it was not uncommon to see bats and chimney swifts around. At twilight, you could go out and see them fluttering around and such. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a bat anywhere in our area. I haven’t seen any in years and years. And you don’t realize it until someone points out that they’re gone!”
The money that Langellier and her partners are raising now will go toward the construction and installation – with the help of experts from the local nature center – of ten bat houses and one chimney swift tower in the neighborhood. So here’s to healthier gardens and fewer skeeters next year! Click here to learn more.
New rock garden and rotating art exhibit coming to an empty Soulsville lot (Late breaking: This project is now FULLY FUNDED, although donations are still being accepted!)
At the corner of Mississippi and Mclemore, in Soulsville, Memphis, is an empty lot about to get a serious makeover. It’s a high traffic corner (the Stax Museum and Stax Music Academy are both nearby) in a very walkable part of town, and residents often sit and hang out amidst the remains of the building that was demolished across the street. Lori Robertson, VP of the neighborhood association, wants to build an inspiring and permanent space where residents can gather. There’s a fabulous “I love Soulsville” mural in place in the empty lot already, and all it needs now, says Robertson and her team, is the attention of some Memphian creatives.
Robertson’s hope for the art garden? To “create a little happy in Soulsville,” she says. She and her team are raising money now to turn the lot into a rock garden, which will serve as a canvass on which local artists will create their own public works. The exhibition will change – if all goes according to plan – every two or three months.
“My husband and I have this personal mantra that we try to live by,” says Robertson, in explaining why she loves her corner of Memphis. “It says ‘live in the vision, not in your circumstances.’ And I feel like the residents of Soulsville truly believe in that. Despite that Soulsville is part of an inner city neighborhood, they focus heavily on the opportunities. What can we do to make sure that Soulsville grows into something greater than what people may see it as today?” To learn more, click here.
My name is Stacey Ornstein, and I think I hold a lot of titles. I’m president of the Astoria CSA, or community supported agriculture. We connect our farm to the local community and we do a lot of educational programming, free to the community. In my professional life, I teach cooking to elementary school kids at an after-school program and through a couple of non-profits in the city.
I’m originally from the Chicago area and I came to New York City, oh, a lot of years ago. I came to New York City to go to school and now I live in Astoria, Queens. So I’ve been here for about fourteen years now.
Astoria is my favorite neighborhood. I do a culinary food tour as a little fun side project in Astoria. The tour that I do is a wider Mediterranean; we do Bosnian, Italian, Greek, and Egyptian, which I think is really cool because they’re some of the lesser-known ethnicities in Astoria. You have to love Queens for its ethnic diversity and food culture.
I have my masters in education, and I worked on art education predominantly in my studies. When I graduated, I was working in a couple of art education non-profits.
I worked with high school students, and I watched the foods that they were bringing in as snacks, and what they were calling their lunches, and it scared me.
Growing up, I loved junk food. But when I started spending my own money on food and realizing that I wasn’t getting full off of that, I started making healthier food choices on my own. When I saw that kids were not doing the same, it scared me. That was my ‘Aha!’ moment.
I love kids because they’re really not afraid to tell you what’s on their minds. They are really honest with you, and if they don’t like something or they think something is boring, they’re going to tell you or they literally go to sleep on the table in front of you.
They’re much more likely to try good food when they know where it comes from, when they’ve had a hand in making it. Something green isn’t as scary when you pull it apart and understand its components.
Beet gnocchi is really cool because it’s a hot pink fuchsia color. Kids love it because I talk to them about beets. If you can’t get your kid to eat beets, you tell them that they will pee pink and potentially miss school if they eat enough beets. Every kid will be chowing down on the beets.
My favorite is anything that has a gross-out factor tagging along with it. I like working with yeast a lot, and doing breads, because they love the science of the yeast. They say they can hear it burping and see all of the gasses coming out. You sort of wish you had that child’s vision, watching bread rise, and being able to hear it burp.
I was leading a green market tour for some fourth graders a couple years back. There was one student who told me he had never had an apple before, a fresh apple. That was a scary moment. It made me realize that things still need to be done.
I’m obsessed with food, and there are so many foods that are all about New York. I support my farm in a winter share and a summer share, so I’m eating local about 90% of the time.
Eating locally, there’s so many different ethnicities that you can play around with, and cook and eat.
Mustard is an awesome, cross-cultural thing. In my community garden, we’ve got people from so many different countries who have different food memories associated with it. We have a Bangladeshi family who talks about having a mustard farm back in their home country. My grandmother was Latvian and she talks about making mustard, which is just vodka and mustard seeds, and maybe some horseradish for spice. However, once you add vodka and mustard seeds together, I don’t know if you need any extra spice. But it definitely clears your sinuses.
Something that drives me everyday is hearing children’s attitudes change. In the beginning of the year, they see something green on the table and they pretend to convulse because they don’t want to eat the green thing. This week, we’re making a green soup with peas and asparagus and they think it’s awesome and they’re coming back for seconds and thirds. That definitely motivates me to keep going, when they’re no longer putting up a fight to eat something green.
The connections that you can make working locally and when you get involved with a community are really amazing. You start to hear people’s stories and you really start to understand people. It makes the city seem smaller and more comfortable.
I have this cantaloupe that was originally in some heirloom seeds that I bought. That cantaloupe crossed with another cantaloupe. It’s turned into the most amazing cantaloupe ever. Every year, I collect seeds from one of the cantaloupes. I take those seeds and packet them, and give some of these cantaloupe seeds to people in the garden. It’s really exciting to have something that you’ve created, pass it along to another gardener or another member of the community, and that they are then going to take the plant and sustain themselves with it. It’s an amazing cycle, saving the seeds and passing the seeds on.
Allergic to Salad is my newer blog that chronicles my life working with elementary school kids, teaching them cooking. It came about because earlier in the year we were making something that involved spinach and green things, and I set out a platter of things that we were working on in class. So there was a lot of green stuff that we were working with, and I had a student who convulsed on the floor and said that she was allergic. I said, “You haven’t even eaten anything and you haven’t even touched anything.” And she stood up and said, “I’m allergic to salad, so I can’t eat anything today.” So I said to her, “I’m really disappointed, because next week we’re making a chocolate salad. Looks like you’ll have to sit that one out also.” She said, “Oh, no, I’m not allergic to salad anymore. Just this kind of salad.” So that’s where the name comes from, Allergic to Salad. It’s a combination of ‘Kids Say the Darndest Things’ and my life working with elementary school students.
There was another instance where we were working with butternut squash and I talked about how butternut squash is like the brother to the pumpkin. As we started cutting up the squash, one of my students started crying because he said that we were killing the brother. But later he said that eating the brother was pretty good. I have some twisted kids, I guess, and that makes it more fun to cook.
I hope one of my biggest contributions was helping to save my community garden, which was on the brink of being turned into—well, I don’t know what it was on the brink of being turned into. That was a scary moment. So, in my own community, that’s something that I’ve held onto and have made a connection with.
There are so many amazing community gardeners and local activists around the city that are really inspiring. I think that all of those little projects are really inspiring when you hear about them and when they come to light. Every day, I’m re-inspired by people around the city when I hear some of the projects that people are working on. It’s not necessarily anything in the food world. Anything that really connects people to their community and to each other is amazing. That’s inspiring to me.