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Gardening isn’t just for pretty flowers anymore. Urban gardening, community gardens and urban agriculture are more popular than ever, and the East Side is no exception. According to the Providence Urban Agriculture Task Force, about half of Rhode Island’s farming land has been lost to expansive urban developments since 1964. This evolution of urban and city space have left many seeking new methods of growing their own source of sustenance in an effort to stay healthy and sustainable, including in our very own backyards.
Brown Gets Innovative
It’s easy to see that Brown University houses some of the smartest people in the state. Back in 1984, the Urban Environmental Lab’s Community Garden took over what was once a dingy parking lot on the campus and transformed it into the beautiful agricultural oasis it is today. The technology that makes this organic garden grow is as simple as it is genius: “We have a double rain barrel that collects water for the plants off the north and east sides of the building, an Aquaponics system that incorporates a big tank full of tilapia and a pebble bed for circulating nutrified water past the roots of tomato and squash plants in the greenhouse, and a few composting bins,” explains Sophie Soloway, current garden coordinator at Brown. This green-tech includes a drip irrigation system as well, which offers controlled amounts of moisture to each community bed.
However, the garden always serves an educational nod. “Most recently, Professor Dawn King’s Urban Agriculture class, a popular new Brown course offering, used the garden to test out their class projects, including a cold frame and a hydroponics system,” says Soloway. For Sophie, the future of urban gardening is bright. “I think that a city’s underappreciated spaces like vacant lots and marginal land could become vibrant, productive growing spaces.”
Growing as an Organic Community
Like the hunters and foragers of long ago, there is a sort of communal cooperation involved in maintaining both sustainability and sanity within a community garden. At Fox Point Community Garden, there is a real emphasis on individual dialogue and strengthening. Promoting the prominence of municipal understanding, Fox Point’s garden also offers open online forums for those seeking gardener’s tips as well as recipe sharing for the variety of produce grown there and seasonal potluck dinners. With 100 plots of land for gardeners to get their hands a little dirty and yearly dues of $25 for the first plot and $30 for a second, it is easy to see why this agricultural experiment is growing in popularity. Founded in 2006, this community garden prides itself on not only providing space for those wanting to grow their roots in the urban landscape, but also for offering a glimpse of greenery in the concrete jungle of city life. With one of the best online resources for community gardens on the East Side, visit their website.
One Woman's Mission for Greener Pastures
Stretching her horticulture know-how across the East Side, Kate Lacouture goes above and beyond to help make possible those people seeking to foster community gardens in their own areas. Owner of her own architectural landscaping company, Green Circle Design, Kate is someone who knows how to take something unkempt and make it blossom. Kate’s work through Green Circle Design led her to help foster the Session Street Community Garden, back in 2007 with Alicia Lehrer and Laura Mernoff and the help of the Providence Parks Department. “Session Street has become the East Side hub for community gardeners,” states a busy Kate, who also manages the community garden at Martin Luther King School (read Jill Davidson’s article about that). Other amenities and additional perks members can enjoy are workshops, on both the East and South Side of Providence, compost for growing and the occasional community potluck.
For Kate, the benefits of urban gardening are pretty straightforward. “A huge benefit is just being able to grow your own food and being self-sufficient,” Kate explains. “I hardly buy vegetables!” However, you might have to wait a little while to get a plot of your own. “We currently have about 32 plots, but it’s a long wait list. Spots really only come up if someone moves away,” says Kate; though she often will tell people if spots aren’t available at Session St. to check out Martin Luther King School. If you are interested in grabbing your own plot, contact Kate.
The More the Merrier
Other urban gardens on the East Side include Brown Street Park Community Garden and Mount Hope Community Garden. Brown Street began construction in 2010, and is run by Kate Bothe and Eamon Brown. For more information visit their website.
Mount Hope is another hot spot for budding grower enthusiasts. It’s been around for about 25 years, and was converted from a dumping ground into the lush greenery it is now. For more information, contact Mary Shawcross.
Urban agriculture is the way of the future, and the East Side seems to be right on pace.