A summer Community Service Fellowship in the Arthur Levitt Public Affairs Center at Hamilton College and a partnership with the Utica Municipal Housing Authority gave Jenney Stringer an opportunity to pursue two interests: organic gardening and community development. In 2007, Jenney, a senior at Hamilton College and a native of Syracuse, NY, worked for ten weeks over the summer with a group of 34 refugee families from Eastern Europe and Somalia, currently living in the East Utica housing complex. Refugee families came together with a common vision. Many of the families are older and gardened in their home country as a regular, daily routine. Most speak very little English, but they transformed an empty field of grass to individual raised-bed garden plots, where families of different backgrounds can create beauty and abundance with vegetables and flowers, gardening together in peace.
The Community Garden, however, took more than a vision and a committed group of gardeners; the success of this project was, and continues to be, dependent on support and generosity from the Utica community. Many individuals and organizations helped this project to be successful. The Community Foundation of Herkimer and Oneida Counties, Inc. provided the major funding of $5000 for the lumber and other materials to build the raised-bed garden plots. The Arthur Levitt Center at Hamilton College donated funds for the topsoil. Home Depot donated supplies and their “Team Depot” – a group of employees who volunteered an entire day and superintended the construction of the gardens. Employees of the Utica Municipal Housing Authority spent their lunch breaks moving soil, and a countless number of volunteers from Hamilton College and the larger community, including the housing complex residents, came out to wield hammers and staple guns, shovels and rakes, donating time and energy for the garden construction days!
In 2011, the UMHA expanded its Community Garden initiative for public housing residents. In a partnership with Empire State College and Cooperative Extension, the housing authority developed sustainable farming course and a second community garden at the Adrean Terrace development. Special outreach for this project was targeted to the Somalia Bantu, other refugee populations, and other public housing residents.
Residents were provided with the space and materials to grow vegetables for their daily consumption. As subsistence farmers in their native country, they will conduct activities that are part of their culture while assimilating into ours. The outcome desired is to enable their adjustment to acceptable social aspects of living in the United States without compromising their own culture. The residents intend to use the community garden as a microenterprise project to sell produce, flowers, and other products which will help them become self-sufficient and generate increase income.
In 2012, the UMHA plans to establish two new gardens at Humphrey Gardens and Gillmore Village. We have entered into a contract with Oneida County Cooperative Extension to provide training in gardening and nutrition education for our residents and staff.
Donations of gardening tools, supplies, and trees are needed to ensure the success of our efforts. Please contact John Furman at (315) 735-3362, ext. 34if you would like to make a tax deductible contribution. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Donations may be mailed to: John Furman, Utica Housing Authority, 509 Second Street, Utica, NY 13501-2450. Your contribution can make a great difference for our residents.