A once barren, 10,000-square-foot lot in Bensalem will soon be brimming with corn, beans, squash, ajices (small sweet peppers) and much more as an enthusiastic group of community gardeners come together from diverse backgrounds to cultivate a colorful tapestry of vegetables and friendships.
Fatima's Community Garden started as an idea of longtime PHS supporter and 1827 Society member Jacki Delaney.
“Since my days at the Barnes Foundation Arboretum School, I have been fascinated with community gardening,” Jacki explains. “As a member of PHS, I have toured Philadelphia community gardens and experienced how they brought neighbors together. As a board member of Catholic Social Services, I often have opportunities to visit program sites. On a visit to Fatima Catholic Outreach Center in Lower Bucks County, I became aware of the Latino community’s desire to start a community garden. Reflecting on my experience at Las Parcelas in Norris Square, I knew a community garden was possible with a partnership between PHS and CSS.”
In spring 2018, Jacki contacted PHS. Nicole Juday Rhoads, PHS Director of Giving, and the PHS community gardening team led by Justin Trezza, Director of Garden Programs, collaborated with Catholic Social Services and Our Lady of Fatima and St. Charles Borromeo in Bensalem to take on this large-scale gardening project.
Our Lady of Fatima serves Central American immigrants, many of whom grew up gardening with their families in Mexico, Guatemala, Puerto Rico, Ecuador, El Salvador, and Honduras and have settled in the Bensalem area. Some of the gardeners have grown up in Philadelphia.
Misael was raised on a cocoa and coffee farm in Guatemala. Gardening now in Bensalem is a way to connect with his heritage and share how he grew up with his children. He was elected president of the nine-member Directiva (board of directors) for Fatima’s Community Garden.
“Community gardens can further unite our community. I’m excited to be able to share my knowledge and experiences with the community since I come from a family of farmers. It is also an opportunity to learn more from PHS and others,” says Misael. “Thank you, PHS, for thinking about our community.”
The participants in Fatima’s Community Garden have been working hard with Justin to prepare the construction of their garden, which will serve 40 families. There are already 38 families signed up, and the space will officially open in June. Together, the gardeners and PHS are building-out the site, including the construction of a shed, 44 eight-by-eight-foot garden beds, a composting space, and fencing. Future plans include picnic tables, a gazebo, and possibly a farm stand and food pantry.
Justin will translate a Garden Tenders class led by Sally McCabe, PHS Associate Director of Community Education, in early April. Additional workshops in structuring governance and creating garden rules are planned.
Garden beds will be planted with corn, beans, squash, and other crops provided by PHS City Harvest.
Located on a site where a large soccer league plays and food vendors gather on Sundays, it is already a central gathering spot. “The garden is a wonderful and important addition to this community,” says Justin. “The majority of these people are coming from rural or agricultural sites in their home countries. This is an opportunity for them to reconnect – it is such a communal space that having a community garden here is an obvious choice.”
Funding for this project is provided by Jim and Jacki Delany and Catholic Social Services, with support from PHS.