Mapping Community Gardens in Providence – Jisu Yang, B.Arch, Architecture, 2021
As it has been two weeks since I started working with the Parks Department Botanical Center, I realized how there is a layer of complexity in the network of community gardens in Providence.
My original proposal for Maharam STEAM fellowship was to create a mobile app for immigrant families to have easier access to community gardens in Providence. After a couple of meetings with the community garden leaders, I had doubts about how effective this platform would be if not everyone is comfortable with using mobile phones. Instead, I wanted my project to be more collaborative and reflect what the community really needs. Over the past two weeks, the project naturally evolved while taking the core of the mobile app proposal.
From the first week, my supervisor Lee Ann recommended the following four steps to pursue.
- Understand the network of community gardens both owned and not owned by Parks
- Have conversations with the farmers and understand their needs
- Choose a neighborhood that I like and needs my help the most
- Document all the research and interviews and prepare materials for publication of the newsletter
The images capture moments from Roger Williams Park Botanical Center. There are four greenhouses that is connected to the office. They provide educational programs for the young internships, organizes the tour, invites weddings, and take care of goats!
The biggest challenge of working on this project is to gain data from these community gardens. There is so much to learn about how they operate in Providence. However, this information was only obtainable by talking to people in person. Frustrated by the lack of data of the community gardens, I was inspired to create a collective map of community gardens and their stories.
Roger Williams Community Garden Plot, right next to the office of Botanical Center
During the first week, I often volunteered at the Roger William Park Community Garden. From 8am to 11am, I helped with planting and weeding. I had a chance to have a conversation with Pasquale, who is a director and organizer of the garden. We had a great conversation and he recommended me to visit City Farm in Southside Community Land Trust and the community garden in Florence St. He said that his experience of working in this field changed his mind to focus from himself to “us”. The culture is shared through food plants and seeds. Some immigrant families bring their seeds from home and plant on their new home in The States. He also recommended me to visit a farmers market in Cranston armory since it has the largest congestions of farmers and I would be able to find people who have interesting story and perspective from the different cultural background.
Meeting Pasquale was a great reminder for me to reflect on the purpose of this fellowship. Although I am a foreigner to Providence, I am interested in community gardens because people who are from the States and who are from other places like me mingle in the community garden, starting to build a network of relationships. I am very interested in the process of how they work as a collective entity and the individual stories of urban farmers.
Community gardens from the Parks Department have multiple scales of operation in the context of Providence. Roger Williams Community Garden runs solely from a volunteer system and they produce vegetables that are donated to kitchens and social organizations such as Amos house, Providence Rescue Mission, and St. Vincent De Paul Society, supporting people who are often marginalized by the society. Other community gardens that are smaller scale are distributed throughout Rhode Island and it is provided for families or individuals who harvest crops for themselves.
South Side Community Land Trust is a social organization that supports and educates people from various cultural backgrounds to become urban farmers and be engaged in a larger network of community. They began as a group of people who were frustrated by the lack of gardens and started one on Somerset St. City Farm is a model of gardening for beginner farmers to understand how children’s education, marketing, and sustainable agriculture work. They also sponsor urban farmers to join the farmer’s market by providing space and furniture.
Diagram for the System of Community Gardens from The Parks and SCLT (the drawing is created by the author and it is based on interviewing and meeting with the administrators)
I had a chance to visit the market in Knight Memorial Library that happens every Wednesday from 2PM to 6PM. Surprisingly, all the stalls were from farmers who work with Southside Community Land Trust. Cilantro, lemongrass, sticky corn, pumpkin leaf, amaranth…etc; I really enjoyed how fresh and unique the vegetables they sell. Some of them are very specific to their home country and these vegetables cannot be found in any other supermarket!
Farmer’s Market in Knight Memorial Library opens every week from 2pm to 6pm
At the end of the second week of my fellowship, I gathered all the information from the meeting and visiting community gardens. I realized that there is not any database for collecting individual stories from community gardens. Yet, I believe this is a very important aspect because it helps bring more attention from the public on the larger mission of promoting urban agriculture in Providence. From the meeting with garden leaders of Summit Neighbor Community Garden, it was interesting to hear how they wanted to grow their gardens by providing more educational workshops and they were very curious about how other community gardens expand their educational model. As the community garden in Providence has been growing exponentially since 2003, it is really important to understand the larger network of community gardens and how the information and opportunities can be more accessible to the public.
This map is from the article Edible Providence: Integrating Local Food into Urban Planning. Please check it out since it contains very holistic research of urban agriculture and case studies of organizational movements that attempt to make Providence more Edible!
For the next couple weeks, I will continue to have more meetings with different community garden leaders and try to create a Story Map that visually maps where the gardens are and provide a new layer of narrative and educational events in individual plots.
My supervisor was very excited to hear my project idea and she said that the story map project was something they have wanted to do it before. She shared the Parks ArcGIS platform that I will be using to continue making a story map and this will have direct access from the Parks Department website. Although this is a very beginning stage, eventually this page will have pin-points for all the community gardens in Providence and storyboard of individual plots.
One challenge I have is to listen from the perspectives of farmers who are immigrant families. Although I had a really good time talking to farmers from Farmer’s market, some people were not very open to talking with me when I asked about their personal stories and cultural background. I hope as my fellowship proceeds, I could have a better understanding of the different perspectives from the government, social organizations, and local farmers.
This table is the most updated collection of community gardens from the Parks. I acknowledge that there are still more out there that I am not aware of. I am very excited to discover and visit more community gardens and see my garden bingo table fill-out more!