PhillyRising: Green Thumbs, Community Engagement Help Save Strawberry Mansion

By: Dan O’Brien

935679_633694919990957_1519815883_nAs with most successful and sustainable projects, the Strawberry Mansion Green Resource Center is an idea that was generated from within the community. The project was made possible through a collaboration of partners, all with work spanning across the city. We were fortunate to have these partners focus their attention on PhillyRising’s Strawberry Mansion neighborhood.

In the Summer 2012, Strawberry Mansion was a school in transition. The school was to receive students from two local high schools that closed at the year prior and had also named a new principal. Thus, there were a number of issues to be addressed before the start of the new school year. When I met with Principal Wayman and a number of other community leaders, one issue that was repeated by all parties was a desire to rebuild the connection between the high school and the community. As the high school was once the focal point of community pride and activity, recent years had seen a discerning disconnect. When looking at some of the strengths of the community: a vacant lot across from the school, multiple gardening groups interested in lending their resources and expertise and a large contingent of community members with a green thumb, it was not difficult to put the pieces together and form our plan of action. The idea for the Strawberry Mansion Green Resource Center was born.

479089_633472860013163_1457784136_oOur strong gardening contingent consisted of three groups each with their own unique skills to bring to the project. The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society(PHS), East Park Revitalization Alliance (EPRA) and the Urban Nutrition Initiative(UNI) combined their resources to ensure that the garden would be more than a productive growing space, but have also ensured that there will be continued maintenance and teaching opportunities for both the students and surrounding residents. Council President Darrell Clarke’s Office along with the Strawberry Mansion NAC and CDC made sure that community members were kept informed and involved in the planning throughout the process. Finally, Principal Wayman and the tireless, committed staff of Strawberry Mansion High School helped to maintain a strong connection between the school and the garden across the street. It was my role to make sure everyone was on the same page and moving toward the same goal and, with such great partners, the job was easy. Despite these great partners and ideas falling into place, however, the project was not without its issues.

One week before we were to announce the planned garden to the school and community, SMHS was announced to be on the school closing list. After some initial uncertainty, we were able to turn a weakness into a strength The surprise announcement rallied the community around the school. They used the planned garden as well as other new programs at the school, by PhillyRising partners like the US Attorney’s Office and Eagles Youth Partnership, as examples of the positive changes happening at the school and in the surrounding community. When the final school closing list was announced, Strawberry Mansion High School was not included!

943606_633694859990963_2116362531_nNow with an energized school and community, we were ready to break ground. After some final planning meetings, on April 27th 2013, as part of a Strawberry Mansion Community “thank you” celebration, 12 raised beds were constructed and arranged with the help of students, community members and all our partners. We also had the help of Managing Director Rich Negrin and US Attorney Zane Memeger who were happy to lend a hand to show their support. Today, the 12 raised beds are being nurtured daily with the help of a number of committed residents and the guidance of Nicole Sugarman from EPRA. We have scheduled June 8th for our next large planting day where we will be placing an additional 18 raised beds on the site. We look forward to seeing this Green Resource Center flourish though the coming years as the space is used by residents and students for fresh food, as an outdoor classroom and as an example of a community on the rise.”

[ For more photos, please visit PhillyRising’s Facebook page]

Dan O’Brien is PhillyRising’s Central Division Coordinator. Contact Dan at Daniel.B.O’Brien@phila.gov. Stay tuned for more PhillyRising Updates every Friday. 

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