Orange Blossom Community Garden: an oasis for the young and old

all photos Cory Rae Rodda/Catalyst

“I’m gonna feed worms,” Orange Blossom Community Garden Co-Director Barbara Powell Harris said. With her bare hands, she pressed pulp donated from the juice bar at Whole Foods into tubs brimming with thin red worms and just-minted soil. “A pound of earthworms will compost half a pound of kitchen waste a day,” she said.

Orange Blossom Community Garden is just finishing its fourth growing season. The garden, nestled on 1822 Orange Ave. in Newtown, is near an independent senior living facility, an assisted living facility and a preschool.

Its 65 gardening plots are tended to by people from all walks of life. A church group grows vegetables in two plots and a family takes care of three others. “One of the brothers is just a really good person,” Powell Harris said. “He checks on the older people in the community. He’ll bring them fresh greens from his garden. Many of them grew up picking their own food.”

Pauline Everett has her own garden plot where she grows black radishes, cabbage, collard greens, flowers, peanuts, mustard greens and radishes. Orange Blossom is a respite from home for her. “It gets me outside — sometimes I feel like I’m running away from home,” she said. “Sitting underneath these oak trees, watching the birds — [it’s] very relaxing.”

Neighborhood kids flock to Orange Blossom. “We have plenty of kids around,” Powell Harris said. “We are a neighborhood that has plenty of resources, but our parents don’t take advantage of resources even though they are practically free … the kids see this as a place where someone is going to listen to them. They are used to adults not being interested in what they have to say.”

During our interview, a kid with golden locks addressed Powell Harris as “Miss Garden.”

“There’s a cute little girl that loves coming,” Powell Harris reflected. “She likes a little undivided attention. She and I are gonna have a tea party [and] we are inviting six friends apiece — no boys allowed. She has all brothers … she likes being around another female.”

The kids devour nearly all the vegetables grown in the garden. “I’ve been amazed how readily they will try things especially when they’ve been growing them.” The children have grown a variety of carrots, lettuces, peppers and tomatoes in the garden and have displayed a particular fondness for carrots. “I don’t think I could grow enough to suit them,” said Powell Harris. They plan to grow okra this summer.

“There is a little boy who will break off some chard and eat some every time he comes in,” Powell Harris said. “I doubt he’s ever seen chard before in his life.

“A garden will usually build community,” she continued. “Our oldest gardeners — they are war veterans and of Puerto Rican dissent. They used to walk by Rosemary [the old community garden] and he was like a little lost puppy dog and would say, ‘Oh, I miss my garden!’ …  our youngest gardeners are four [years old]. We’ve got everything in between. We’ve got gardeners with PhDs and have some who may not have graduated from high school. Everyone learns from everyone else and it’s a feeling of community. We jokingly say that we have someone from every continent except Antarctica.”

Three New College students have written their theses on Orange Blossom Community garden and many others help out in the garden. “There are a lot of ways that someone from New College could be of a tremendous service to us and fit the activities [of Orange Blossom] into their studies,” Powell Harris noted.

Volunteers can adopt a plot in the garden, follow a water conservation project that Powell-Harris is spearheading, help at-risk kids by organizing community events, compost or help older community members cultivate their own garden. Powell Harris said that she and her fellow gardeners are always open to new ideas.

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