“We planned the event to go from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., but people stayed until 5:00 building raised beds for our new community garden site,” said Sister Alia Walker, founder of the Earth’s Keepers. The group was able to build 16 of their 20 beds, which is more than they had hoped to do.
Sisters Alia and Safiyah, Philadelphia natives and long-time local community-builders, have pioneered a collaborative approach to community gardening. Their launch party on Saturday, March 19th served two purposes: to build the raised beds they need to begin planting vegetables on their new corner of the Kingsessing Recreation Center yard, but more importantly, to welcome the community to participate in this space.
The Earth’s Keepers’ team of teen urban gardeners will cultivate this plot under Alia and Safiyah’s direction. To get started on the 2011 season, the teens created a flier about the event and delivered it to neighbors. The neighbors were thrilled; teens and adults alike turned out in their gardening clothes to build the beds.
People from two other urban farms in the area came to give a hand, as did community members from Southwest District Services. Representatives from the Philadelphia Majlis Ash Shurah labored long and hard to fill the raised beds with soil. UPenn students heard about the event through an email Sister Alia sent to a collaborator at the university, and they came too. Finally, the Earth’s Keepers brought their families along to help.
“It was like a rainbow: all colors, men and women, young and old. We were overjoyed,” said Sister Alia (pictured left). “Local women came up to me and said, ‘When is the next work day? When can I come next?'”
The diversity of Saturday’s gardeners was a natural outcome of an effort so broadly supported. The city’s Department of Parks and Recreation enthusiastically offered their land and classroom space inside the rec. center; the Philadelphia Horticultural Society provides continuing support in everything from expertise to funds; the Philadelphia Orchard Project developed the farm plan for the layout of the site, and will supply the trees for their fruit orchard; Henkels & McCoy has donated all the materials for their future greenhouse and shed; the Lomax Family Foundation pays the youth to work; and Keystone Mercy Health Plan provided funds for the volunteers’ lunch. The Kingsessing Advisory Board was instrumental in securing the site. The abutting library is adding a water tap to the side of their building to make it easier to water the garden. The new site is called Earth’s Keepers Kingsessing Urban Farm, or EKKUF.
The Earth’s Keepers welcome collaborations of all kinds; their collaborations abound.
Post by Alia Walker and Alexa Mills. Photos by Alice J. Hausman.