I have to admit – at first glance, it seemed impossible. How in the world would we move 60 cubic yards of composted soil – enough to fill a tractor trailer – up a flight of concrete stairs? Nonetheless, in a few short hours, more than 100 community volunteers formed a bucket brigade and quite literally moved a mountain on a recent Saturday at the Rodney Street Reservoir on Wilmington’s West Side.
Standing atop the reservoir as the scent of smoke and barbequed meat emanated from the grill in front of me were 24 brand new garden plots, full of fresh soil and ready for the spring growing season. The city’s largest community garden had just unfolded in front of my eyes.
Created by West End Neighborhood House in 2011, the garden gives residents in one of the city’s most densely populated neighborhoods the space to grow their own fruits and vegetables, as well as an opportunity to connect with their neighbors. Providing nearly 5,000 square feet of growing space to the community, the garden easily accommodates over 50 families.
In 2013, the garden will grow into an innovative center of urban agriculture, almost tripling its original capacity. West End’s Bright Spot Ventures, a social enterprise that employs and empowers youth aging out of the foster care system will cultivate 16 of the 24 new plots into a start-up urban farm. Youth employed by Bright Spot Ventures help to manage several small businesses as a part of this unique job training program. In 2011, they started the Wilmington Farmer’s Market at Cool Spring Park, which improves access to high-quality, locally grown produce for low-income families and has since become one of the city’s biggest farmers’ markets. The Bright Spot Ventures farm is set to become a major vendor when the market’s season starts on June 20th of this year.
The agricultural initiative at Rodney Reservoir is part of a wider revitalization effort known as West Side Grows Together and is a collaboration between Bright Spot Ventures (a program of West End Neighborhood House) Cornerstone West, CDC and many other partners including Barclays Bank, the City of Wilmington, Cool Spring/Tilton Neighborhood Association, Delaware Center for Horticulture, the Delaware Department of Agriculture, EDiS, Hilltop/Little Italy Blueprint Community, Little Italy Neighborhood Association, Peninsula Compost Company and Public Allies Delaware. In June, 2012, West Side Grows Together created and began to implement the West Side Revitalization Plan, which outlines a 10-year strategy to grow jobs, improve housing, create more opportunities for youth, promote public safety and build a stronger sense of community in West Side neighborhoods.