By Dan Kirk and Paula White
This year marks the 4th year of what we call “Hope Gardens”, a partnership between community members in North Richmond and The Watershed Project to re-imagine and utilize spaces between the sidewalk and street by planting native and/or drought tolerant plants. Apr 8, 2022 was the first planting of the year, with volunteers and community members working together to dig, plant, spread mulch and water. During the end of the workday’s closing circle, volunteers described the day in a few words: wonderful, enriching, inspirational, educational and fun. We love this project because it’s a collective effort, for example, all of us get to feel the satisfaction of overcoming the challenges, like big chunks of asphalt that are under the topsoil that we encounter when we dig planter holes!
Also, being outside makes you feel good. Even better, being outside while talking about how good you feel with people around you – expressing a shared appreciation is a way to build a relationship with people and the built environment. One of the volunteers, a teacher at Salesian High School, mentioned an article about research from the University of Boulder about a soil bacterium, Mycobacterium vaccae that produces a fatty acid that reduces inflammation and consequently stress in mammals. We love to hear about the science of feeling good outside!
Hope gardens doesn’t only impact the folks who work together to make it happen, but the community at large; Hope Gardens build resilience one block at a time. These miniature gardens are a metaphor for slow incremental growth and change towards resilience in a neighborhood. It starts with a seed, or an idea that inspires people to want a garden. The gardener is the planner who preps and organizes the ground for planting. The nutrients from the planting make the magic happen. We may dig the holes and put the plants in, but the microorganisms do a lot of the work for the plants once they are in the ground. Lastly, the garden adopters are the nurturing element who will water and maintain the plants. Over time, we see blocks, and then neighborhoods transform.
After four years of Hope Gardens, we face the challenges of the past and present and see new opportunities ahead. We know that planting earlier in the Spring presents a better likelihood for success, as planting later in the season can be stressful for the plants (less water!). We hope to see us involve more volunteers so we can make the work go faster so we can start earlier. Although us at The Watershed Project conform (loosely) to a 9-5 work week, we know that community outreach and information sharing doesn’t. We would like to make more tools for the community to find out about the project online and in community centers and hubs in North Richmond.
If you want to check out what Hope Gardens planting day is like, check out our Instagram Live feed on April 22nd!