It’s hard to imagine that anyone or anything had a stellar year in 2020. But Grassroots Gardens WNY did. The beloved Buffalo organization, that takes derelict unkempt properties and converts them to urban farms, gardens, and coveted green spaces, has been steamrolling right along.
I recently caught up with a number of Grassroots Gardens staff and board members, to see some of the progress that they were making at their new headquarters on the city’s East Side. We also discussed some of the gardening successes in the neighborhood, and throughout the city.
At a time that COVID has a stranglehold on so much of what we see and do, it’s comforting to know that farming and gardening remain a constant source of inspiration. In fact, these pastimes offer relief in ways that we might not have imagined. For example, did you know that the majority of Grassroots Gardens are food-producing? On the East Side alone there are 50 gardens, most of which have been open and operational during COVID. Of these 50 gardens, 85% produce food, and a handful are strategically located on school grounds.
Other than providing people (who live in parts of the city that are deemed ‘food deserts’) with easy-to-access healthy produce, Grassroots Gardens also incorporates an educational element that is indispensable. At their HQ operation, the team has cultivated an interactive outdoor learning laboratory that features rain barrels, raised garden beds, composting, a moon arch, trellises, and an ADA-compliant inclusive sensory garden that will soon be wheelchair accessible, with braille signage (among other ADA conveniences). A “pollinator buffet berm” has also been planted that will one day act as a living wall.
In the immediate neighborhood, Grassroots Gardens has plans for 5 rain gardens – 4 community demo rain gardens and a rain garden on site, which will not only look beautiful, they will also help to prevent rainwater from entering the City’s storm sewer intakes. These gardens are not yet planted, as State funding for the project is held up at the moment due to COVID.
Between the 107 active gardens found throughout the city, Grassroots Gardens calculates that it has thus far contributed $73, 000 in sweat equity to the City, thus reaping significant savings in maintenance costs for tax payers. But that’s just a drop in the bucket when compared to the social activism that is underway, including free food producing for the Pine Street Food Pantry. Then there are the community workshops, the teaching garden… not to mention the diverse Board of Directors composed of mostly gardeners. It is that fabric and composition that has led to the enhanced social activism that we are seeing today.
During my visit to Grassroots Gardens “Teaching Garden,” I was happy to see that Denis Guerin from Petrichor Flora was on-hand as a board member – Denis has become a leader in the flower and garden space in Buffalo. I also met Executive Director Jeanette Koncikowski – the driving force of the organization. Koncikowski told me that she is hopeful that the organization will be receiving national accreditation as a Land Trust in 2021, for best practice and highest quality, and urban conservation work. She also regaled me with success stories of Buffalo’s Freedom Gardens:
“Freedom Gardens are residential gardens planted at people’s homes for freedom and food resilience,” explained Koncikowski. “Founded by Gail Wells and supported by Food for the Spirit, Grassroots Gardens, and others, Freedom Gardens had funding secured with the help of Seeding Resilience, Open Buffalo, and the WNY COVID Relief Fund to build and distribute 50 no-cost gardens to BIPOC community members living in zip codes hardest hit by coronavirus at the start of the pandemic. Home owners received 4×4 cedar beds, soil delivered on site, plants, seeds and education. Renters received a more portable Earth Box for patio or indoor growing. Most Freedom Gardens are located within 14215 but there were some also distributed in 14204, 14211, and 14213.”
Volunteer Channing Hill was also present, who got his start at Freedom Gardens and the Buffalo Food Equity Network, as well as Farmer Pirates. Hill told me that years ago he had come across a couple of young boys in his neighborhood that were hungry, and decided that he needed to help make a difference.
It is these people that are rallying to make a difference in the way that we reexamine the value of our neighborhood green spaces. These green spaces are here to feed, comfort, and console. They are here for music and art. They are here to connect neighbors to one another, at a time when we are faced with social distancing and racial divide. In the City of Good Neighbors, Grassroots Gardens is an organization that not only opens its doors to the community, it’s also the one that comes a-knockin’ when the chips are down.
As part of the healing process that this country and this community is undergoing, there will be a candlelight vigil at 4 community gardens on November 21. Grassroots Gardens has issued a ‘call for artwork, poetry, and music’ for the event (see inset).
To support Grassroots Gardens and their endeavors, consider bidding on a pie at their annual Pie Raffle!
The Grassroots Gardens Pie Raffle/virtual auction is currently underway through November 9th @ Bidding for Good, followed by the live event on Zoom on November 10th from 7-8pm where they will announce winners and celebrate the 25th anniversary of the organization with awards for community gardeners and community champions for change. Entry tickets are $10 and provide access to both aspects of the event. Pies include cherry, key lime, ricotta, pear and frangipane, pumpkin, pizza, blackberry, apple, doughnut, pecan, vegan, and gluten-free. All proceeds benefit the spring 2021 distribution of plants, seeds, soil and lumber to 100+ community gardens.
Grassroots Gardens WNY | 389 Broadway Street | Buffalo, New York 14204 | Office: (716) 783-9653
Lead image (L-R) Jeanette Koncikowski, staff member Emere Nieves (Community Garden Trainer), Channing Hill, Denis Guerin, staff member Graceanne Brown (Operations Assistant)