If I have learned anything during my short time here in Buffalo, it is that community nonprofit groups go far beyond their mission statement. Grassroots Gardens is an organization that works to enable neighborhoods to build and maintain community gardens using vacant land in Buffalo. However, they do so much more than this. Since June 1st, they’ve held a number of workshops for refugee populations on the importance of using safe practices while gardening in urban settings. Access to safe water and non-toxic soil is essential to gardening in the city and Grassroots Gardens wants to make sure all gardeners, not just the ones who participate in GG community gardens, are aware of the risks that come with urban gardening. Last week we held The People’s Food Movement event with the Massachusetts Avenue Project and the Food Bank of WNY. The event was attended by members of the community (I’d estimate near 100 people!) from various organizations and neighborhoods to discuss the current state of food access in Buffalo, what our nonprofit organizations are doing to help, and what the community wants to see change in terms of food access in the future. This week there’s been garden tours, a promotional event for our organization as well as our July event Strawberry Jam, and on Sunday one of our gardens will be hosting a screening of the thought-provoking film “Old South”, a documentary on the role a community garden plays in preserving an Atlanta neighborhood’s culture as well as its influence on southern race relations. And that doesn’t even bring us to the end of June!
My final project entails designing a guide for our gardeners to make our gardens more accessible for people of all abilities in the community. Without intention, we often exclude people because of the physical environments we create. Our gardens play a pivotal role in revitalizing neighborhoods and serving as meeting places for communities and so it is important that we work to include all members. This week I developed an outline for the guide and determined that it will include recommendations on creating accessible walkways, planters and alternatives to traditional ground-planting, the use of ergonomically designed tools, and plant selection for creating sensory gardens using Buffalo native plants. These recommendations will be based off of the principle of Universal Design, which promotes the creation of environments that allow for the most access for the greatest number of people without using separate design spaces. At least, that’s what I’m thinking so far but this is subject to change in the coming weeks as I learn more about the gardens and the communities in Buffalo.