A garden grows in Marble Hill

Starting with a small plot, the fresh vegetable project has doubled in size

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A year was just the right amount of time for the Marble Hill Garden to start sowing its seeds in a new location.

The original garden — located on the east side of West 228th Street and Broadway — was the brainchild of Jacki Fischer, founder and project manager of the Marble Hill Garden Project, as well as Juanli Carrión, an artist who founded an interactive public art and community garden nonprofit called Outer Seed Shadow.

Together, the two rounded up a team of residents at Marble Hill Houses who soon learned how to plant and grow various vegetables and herbs. It was all part of Fischer and Carrión’s project to promote accessible and healthy eating.

Now the duo has launched another garden on the west side of West 228th — referred to as the terrace garden — thanks to the help of artist and space designer Cheryl Wing-Zi Wong, construction leader Anthony Del Orbe, and project coordinator Vicky Zambrano. The entire process took about 10 months as opposed to the nearly two years for the east garden to come together. 

An opening celebration took place Aug. 25.

The terrace garden’s theme is “companion planting” and revolves around planting vegetables and herbs that are beneficial to one another. Its collection ranges from zucchini and sweet potatoes, to rosemary and parsley. 

Over the last year, Fischer notes many have stopped to look at the east side garden and that “it’s really just become a community mainstay.” Unfortunately, that garden recently closed temporarily after sewage flooding contaminated it. Now the Marble Hill Garden team is switching out the soil and making other structural changes to the space before it re-opens next spring.

But the garden’s volunteers are not lost without a home for their plants. They’ve made their way to the terrace garden for the time being and helped with the construction process as Carrión and Fischer’s team knocked on doors at Marble Hill Houses to recruit new members.

“They came together and were able to jointly plant in the garden,” Fischer said. “We had to stop our outreach because there’s simply no more room at this point to add people to that side.”

The volunteer group is currently comprised of about 20 members, according to Carrión. At the opening celebration in August, he recalls the pride each of them took in what they had accomplished this year.

“It was a real celebration,” Carrión  said. “It was not just elected officials coming to celebrate. It was the members being very proud to be there.”

Fischer added that when it comes to leading this group of volunteers, she and Carrión aren’t always the ones who have to call the shots.

“It’s not so much as a top-down type of thing,” she said. “It’s a team effort.”

Over the last year, Fischer and Carrión have learned a lot about what it takes to run a successful community garden. For Carrión, it’s about learning the unique qualities the Marble Hill community has to offer and see how much people can progress from that experience.

“We have members that last year didn’t know (anything) about growing plants and this year they were able to take the lead,” Carrión  said. “They were ready for it. They knew what to do. They did it and they were just on it.”

Carrión and Fischer hope that in two or three seasons, they’ll be able take a backseat from the project and let the volunteers — and their garden work — continue to shine.

In the meantime, Fischer reflects on the fact that they’re a lot like the theme of the terrace garden in being able to complement and benefit each other. 

“We find that our gardeners have learned to do the same, organically, no pun intended,” she said. “These are people that didn’t know each other. They (were) just meeting at the garden. 

“But the whole premise and concept of (Outer Seed Shadow is) serving a platform to bring people together, and before you know it, they’re friends and supporting each other in every way. Whether it’s watering someone’s plants because they can’t be there, or helping someone get to a meeting — whatever it is — they’re there for each other.”

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