September 23, 2021
Last week, my signs delivered and I installed them at the Diamond Street and Sprague Street Sankofa Gardens!
The Diamond Street garden dealt with misunderstandings around how to properly turn on and off the hose. Growers need to go inside the shed to turn the tap first, before turning the outside hose handle. If the order is switched, it leads to expensive flooding.
The Sprague Street garden sign is intended to encourage sharing knowledge, since there have been many accounts of miscommunication and stealing. In addition, Southside Community Land Trust asked for a couple copies of this sign for 3 of their gardens! One of their translators generously helped me with making both signs.
After installing the signs, Julius (the market manager) arranged a small lunch gathering for staff at West Elmwood Housing Corporation and growers I know from the garden. I spoke about my experience this summer and explained my intention with the signs. It was lovely being able to see everyone’s reactions and support towards my work.
Last month, I connect one of my favorite podcasts with Sankofa. Mosaic highlights stories about immigration and identity in Rhode Island; they are currently speaking with Raffini, one of the growers for a future piece. The producers also invited me to submit a community essay to share my thoughts from Sankofa! I am so grateful to be able to share my story on such a platform. 🙂
September 4, 2021
I have officially finished up my fellowship!
Over the course of the internship, the biggest moment of weakness I noticed was stealing and miscommunication. Ideally, I wanted to be able to propose and execute a spatial layout for a new garden that would encourage growers to collaborate and share expertise with each other. However, this wasn’t feasible due to resource and timeline constraints, so I decided to focus on my fine art skills to create a signage project.
I have been working on the visuals of 2 signs to be posted in 2 Sankofa Gardens. The first sign, pictured below, aims to encourage sharing of knowledge, expertise, and produce between grower, in order to reduce misunderstandings in the garden. One grower shared with me that growing up in their home country, sharing food with strangers from their farm was very common. If an outsider wanted to eat, it was welcomed, not shamed. As a result, I felt it was most important for this sign to read as a story, rather than a command. In order to ultimately give the growers the agency to determine what behaviors they believe are best.
The 2 stories illustrated, the right side: stealing, and the left side: sharing, are based on the experience of the growers I have met in the gardens. Many growers feel disappointed and angry when they find their vegetables have been stolen.
Melanie, my supervisor, shared with me the joy and connection she feels with growers when they share expertise on how to grow with her. She has strong relationships because of how she supports them in the garden, and how they give back to her.
It’s important to note, that ultimately, the stealing and lack of strong relationships in the garden is tied to the individual ownership system of the garden. I initially assumed it was due to language differences, but I noticed that at the market, when vendors are forced to exist together, they are frequently finding opportunities to support one another (whether it means helping set up a tent, or making the other laugh on a slow rainy day). And this occurs across farmers of different cultures!
This second sign, above, is a response to flooding issues with the water pipe in one of the gardens. Melanie explained how growers often turn off the external hose first, when they should be turning off the handle inside the shed first.
The signs are planned to ship and be installed in the coming week!
I also had the honor to write and record a short essay about my experience with Sankofa for the podcast, Mosaic, which will be published through the Publics Radio soon as well. A final post is soon to come. 🙂
Groundwork RI – PCF Week 5/6: Develop, Deploy & Celebrate! | Jason Hebert, Juliana Soltys | MID ’22
As the final weeks encroached, frantic motions were made to refine all the loose ends. Week 5 was the big week for completing all the projects so they would be presentable next week at the end-of-summer events. PCF’s Thursday group continued to paint their signs, remembering to include both English and Spanish versions. Concurrently, the completed signs from the week prior were drilled to their stakes; they were finally ready to be placed around the garden. PCF’s Monday group continued to prepare their tabling items — specifically the canvas that would be draped over the table and the recipe box that would contain produce-relevant recipe cards for passersby to grab with their produce. Recipes for beets and eggplants were picked by Juliana and myself; moreover, we ensured both Spanish and English translations.
To our pleasant surprise, PCF’s Tuesday group was interested in working on the tabling project! Juliana and I never met with this group because of logistics; therefore, the drying signs from the Thursday group piqued their interest. With that, we all met on Tuesday that final week at Hope Artiste Village where they painted the opposite side of the canvas. The recipe box was completed by Juliana, and I spent the day drilling the dried signs from Thursday. With much struggle, we finalized the tasks from week 5 by handing in the flyers to the Pawtucket Housing Authority.
In retrospect, the youth from each group showed excitement and liveliness with the painting opportunities. Despite it being Victory Day in Rhode Island, the Thursday group at PCF joined us on Monday to paint the canvas with them. It was nice to see the two groups we had been working with come together at the end. Naturally, awkward cliques were formed during this meeting, but overall it was incredibly productive and wholesome. On the backend of everything, advertising for the event was difficult. With it both being a holiday and vacation time for our point-of-contact at the PHA, handing over the flyers failed multiple times. However, we were able to hand them off. On top of it all, there were some minor mistakes on the flyers that we had overlooked, so always remember to triple check your flyers before you print them!
The final day (for the fellowship) spent with the Pawtucket, Central Falls, and Galego communities had arrived, and setup for the Galego end-of-summer event began promptly at 10:15 am. The Pawtucket Housing Authority group brought and constructed the tent, tables, and chairs that would be used. As assigned, the PCF coordinators brought the Groundwork tables and food from Harvest Kitchen. Juliana and I grabbed juice, ice, and the vital food from Caprichos. As we headed out, the youth were sent off to construct their tables and place the garden signs. We arrived back to see a beautiful and inviting setup alongside a plethora of people — familiar and unacquainted. For Juliana and I, grabbing the food was absolutely chaotic: as non-Spanish speakers in a crowded, Hispanic bakery, grabbing the food politely was awkward but successful. It is assumed the setup at the Galego gardens went smoothly and sweatily.
All was prepared by 11 am! In retrospect, there was decent attendance, with the primary set of visitors being friends and family of the youth. Partway through, important members of the Pawtucket Housing Authority stopped by. They praised the youths’ endeavors and the gardens lusciousness, furthermore hinting at future collaborations. Regarding attendance from the Galego community itself: foot traffic was low but there were members that came with their families. We assume slow attendance was because of the timing during working hours as well as the broiling temperatures outside. To the surprise of many, a journalist also came to the event! I sadly have forgotten his name — as well as his company — but will keep an eye out for the article.
Food, drinks, and entertainment for the event were spectacular. Harvest Kitchen prepared a similar menu as Providence’s event: veggie salad, potato salad, and cookies. Caprichos was unanimously an attendee favorite though; their array of appetizers, entrees, and desserts went out quickly. I, myself, ate a fair share of their food. Iced water and juice were supplied at the opposing end of the table. Outside of the tent, but still under the shade of the trees and buildings, youth played cornhole and Juliana played with a younger family member of one of the youth at the Spikeball net. Music was nearby playing off of Juliana’s karaoke speaker. The speakers’ lights were on, of course.
The weather was similar to the day before: objectively hot and humid. Being in the high 90s, you were guaranteed to sweat if you stood in the sun for even the briefest of moments. Thankfully, the shade from the tent, trees, and tenant housings created spaces for respite. This heat could be felt during the garden tours; however, hidden spots of shade were found along the way. Besides, the vibrant garden signs helped to forget the heat. Under the shade outside the gardens stood the farmstand. It was colorful and refreshing. Luscious vegetables were piled, laying proudly atop the painted canvas and adjacent to the vivid recipe box.
The event was an absolute success! Everyone seemed to be in good spirits despite the heat. The food was enticing, and the outcome of the youths’ projects was relieving and rewarding. They did absolutely amazing. Real changes were seen in the gardens, and the acceptance by the community was reassuring. Given our positions, Juliana and I spent much of our time documenting the experience. We were also exhausted from the day before, so this made it hard to socialize — but that didn’t stop us! All in all, it was an exhausting but rewarding experience for us as fellows, for the youth as leaders, for the coordinators as supporters, and for the communities as hosts.
Acknowledgements + Thanks
As cliche as it is, words can not express the gratitude I feel for this opportunity. Thanks goes out to Kevin Jankowski for the support and constant encouragement you gave us throughout the entire process. You have a gorgeous garden and a contagious charisma. To the Providence coordinators, Sarah and China: thank you ten times over for letting us into your garden space. Your energy and emboldenment made this possible — without it, we would never have been able to connect with the youth and with the surrounding community. The memory of eating the spicy pepper still sits strongly in my mind. To the Pawtucket and Central Falls coordinators, Arleen and Leandro: the sentiment is repeated. Allowing us the time to meet in the Hope Artiste Village will always be remembered so positively, even though the air conditioning was a bit aggressive now and then. To all of the food vendors, thank you for sharing your hidden gems with us; moreover, thank you for the patience with working with us as non-Spanish speakers. I have continuously been advertising your food to everyone around me. To Chandelle and Everett at the Galego gardens and Kimberly with the Pawtucket Housing Authority, thank you more than ever for allowing us into your space. The gardens were astonishing and the people who work within it are exponentially more amazing. I hope to visit you again soon. And of course, I am forever grateful to the youth who made this experience workable and worthwhile; you are all truly the next leaders of our society. Your effort, with and without us, was and will continue to be admirable and dignified. The world is a better place with everyone listed in this thank you message.
Last, but certainly not least, tremendous thanks goes out to my teammate, Juliana. Thank you for being there with and for me; thank you for letting me be with and there for you as well. It was such a ride (literally and figuratively) with amazing highs and unavoidable lows. Thank you for driving constantly and letting your car get filled to the brim with random items alongside the copious amount of dog hair. Our multiple hardware store trips were hilarious and humbling. Even more humbling were the hours we spent in the studio — none of which I would ever take for granted. Thank you for the constant support, empathy, resourcefulness, and insight you have to offer. Without you, this experience would never have been possible. I am excited to support you as you grow this next year and will always value you as a classmate, a professional, and (more than anything) a friend. 😀