Community Garden Grows Strong Ties
The Friends Community Garden brings all walks of life together.
When Linda Dapkunas wants to describe the Friends Community Garden, she gets a little patchy.
“It’s like a patchwork quilt,” she says, “I just love looking at it.”
Dapkunas is just one of many gardeners of all ages, backgrounds, and experience who have joined the community garden behind the Old Haverford Friends Meeting burial ground. The garden helps promote organic gardening and sustainable living, she says.
This community garden, the first organic community garden in Havertown, began as a hopeful thought in the mind of Bonnie McMeans, a member of the Old Haverford Friends Quaker Meeting house, the oldest place of worship in Delaware County.
When the meetinghouse began to discuss possible uses for the extra space behind the burial ground, Steve Loughin, another member of the community, approached McMeans about creating the community garden she had always hoped for.
Planning began in the fall of 2009 with a committee of six meetinghouse attendees. By May 1, 2010, the community garden was ready to commence its first season, offering 24 plots to interested gardeners. The plots are 20x25 foot for $35 a season, and gardeners are welcome to plant whatever they want—from sunflowers, to snap peas, to corn, to swiss chard—just as long as the entire process remains organic and pesticide-free.
“Quakers believe in preserving the environment,” McMeans explains, who is a journalism professor at Delaware County Community College. “It’s one of our main beliefs that we must take care of the earth—it wasn’t even a question whether or not this garden would be organic.”
Despite the mere six-member planning committee and no marketing or advertising campaigns, the Friends Community Garden has found tremendous support and interest since the very beginning.
“Everyone is welcome, just as long as they don’t use pesticides,” Dapkunas says with a chuckle. She is also a speech pathologist with Chatham Park Elementary School. “Gardeners come from as far away as West Philly, to Lansdowne, to Ardmore.”
Even after adding 12 more plots this season to bring the garden to a total of 36 plots, the area cannot accept all interested people for the season.
“There is definitely a demand for this,” McMeans says, who is also the clerk of the Friends Community Garden Committee. “We have 12 people on the waitlist for the 2012 season.”
Before the Friends Community Garden, the closest opportunity for such gardening would have been at Haverford College. Doug Davis, a professor at the local college and a Friends Community gardener, explained that for more than 50 years the college provided large plots of land for anyone who had wanted to plant a garden. In the past few years, however, participation decreased.
“When Merion Golf Club approached Haverford College about using their space for the 2013 U.S. Open, it just hastened the college’s gardens’ demise,” Davis explains. “So a few of the gardeners have moved here.”
McMeans nodded in agreement.
“Yes, there are a few professors who have plots here, and they only plant sweet potatoes,” she said with a smile. “It’s great! They special ordered over 1000 plants from North Carolina.”
It is clear from these conversations that the gardeners come to this place for a variety of reasons: to continue their gardens, to try gardening for the first time, or even to give back to the community. McMeans said that one plot specifically grows food to be given directly to St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Ardmore for use in their food bank.
For Tina Shuster, a friend and neighbor of McMeans, the possibility of having a plot in a community garden gave her hope for a brighter gardening future.
“When I was first married, I lived in Philadelphia,” Shuster recalls. “I was able to grow the most beautiful tomatoes there. But when I moved out here, any tomato that grew would be destroyed by the squirrels. So when Bonnie told me about this, I said absolutely— I was going to get a tomato, hell or high water.”
And she has had great success. This garden has had no report of theft or destruction of plants, and luckily for Shuster, the squirrels seem to stay away. This fertile ground has provided gardeners with true fruits of their labor, and to celebrate, a potluck meal occurs at the end of every season, a tribute to all of the fine foods and flowers successfully grown over the summer.
Davis has returned to the garden for a second season and a second potluck.
“I brought a watermelon from my garden last year,” Davis says of the first annual potluck. “You can’t go wrong with watermelon.”
Davis does not work his garden alone—he has his 8-year-old daughter Skylar to help. The family involvement is not unusual in the community garden, as evidenced by the several Tonka trunks and children’s gardening tools scattered in various plots. According to McMeans, about a third of the plots are looked after by families.
For Davis and his daughter, the community garden offers them a fun—and always entertaining—activity to do together.
“I grew up in rural Illinois, and now I live in the city—my backyard is a small concrete slab,” Davis explains. “So the community garden is really wonderful and brings me back to my roots.”
Skylar Davis interrupted her father’s reflection with a smile, saying, “Dad, remember when you planted the asparagus upside down?”
With a laugh, Davis went on to explain that the excitement of having a garden inspired him to be adventurous and try planting asparagus.
“My father came out to visit, and I showed him our garden. Immediately he pointed out that I had planted the asparagus incorrectly,” Davis says. “Luckily we were able to fix it, so we should have some great asparagus soon.”
Stories like Davis’ of the trials and tribulations of first time gardeners are what make this community garden much more than just some plots filled with bell peppers and strawberry bushes. Along with a concern for the environment and healthy habits, these gardeners cultivate a community, learning and growing with each other.
“We learn a lot from each other, from helpful hints and tips, to new foods and recipes,” Davis explains. “People of different backgrounds, different upbringings all bring their own flavors to the community garden.”