Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Swarthmore men’s soccer team shared their skills with kids ages five to 14 as part of the team’s Charity Youth Soccer Clinic last Sunday. This year, the money raised during the charity was donated to the Chester Garden Project.
“We decided it would be good to find [an organization] that was local and relevant to our community, and Chester Garden Project seemed like a perfect fit,” said Head Coach Eric Wagner.
The Chester Garden Project maintains a community garden in Chester with assistance from neighborhood youth. According to the Project’s mission, “every person, regardless of race, class, nation or other variables, has the right to a healthy and safe environment.” This principle of environmental justice drives their work to improve access to fresh fruits and vegetables in Chester.
Swarthmore students started the Chester Garden Project in fall 2009 after attending a regional conference about issues surrounding environmental injustice in Pennsylvania.
“Swat students came back really energized to close the food gap, and had the idea that a community garden would be a great way to take action, to make incremental change on larger issues” said Evan Nesterak ’09, one of the project’s founders.
With this goal in mind, interested students who were already involved in the group Environmental Justice, a subset of Earthlust, began to have conversations with community members involved in the DelCo Alliance for Environmental Justice and other citizen groups about the possibility of creating a community garden. They then spoke with members of the Chester Housing Authority, who proposed placing the garden at the Ruth Bennett Home. Because of the support they received from community members and various grants, the garden project became a reality.
Since the founders’ graduation in 2009, the garden has grown substantially. “We have twenty raised beds and a ton of storage space, two large storage containers, composting facilities, sheds, and a big fence” Taryn Colonnese ’13 said, a student who became involved in the group in spring 2009 and helped to run a camp at the garden last summer.
“We go [to the garden] every Saturday for a couple hours […] there are about eight people in Environmental Justice [from Swarthmore] and there are anywhere between 15 to 20 kids who come out relatively regularly.” The youth, who are generally between the ages of two and 13, help Swatties with various tasks around the garden in addition to doing crafts, playing games and eating snacks, Colonnese said.
But in spite of its success, not many adults have become as involved in the Chester Garden Project as the founders had additionally hoped. Members are currently brainstorming possible ways to better incorporate the Chester community into the Project. One tentative plan is to hire a garden manager from the community. Money raised from the soccer fundraiser would likely fund this position.
Colonnese appreciated the soccer team’s support of the project and anticipates their continued support. “In spring, we will host a work day where the soccer team will help us get the beds prepped and help put down soil,“ Colonnese said.
Coach Wagner also envisioned the collaboration extending further. “This could be a really great relationship because [the Chester Garden Project] is student run, local and […] something that we could help [by providing] manpower and fundraising, and increasing community awareness. Maybe some of our players will want to get more involved with it.” Wagner said.
Featured image courtesy of eoringel/Flickr.