The city of Amsterdam and Centro Civico have established a ‘pocket park’ on East Main Street for the purpose of creating a ten-box community garden.
Amanda Bearcroft, Amsterdam’s community and economic development director, said the city of Amsterdam, including particularly the East End, is what is known in the economic planning profession as a “food desert.”
“Unless you have a car, or you walk up to Route 30, those are your only viable options for fresh fruits or vegetables,” she said.
Bearcroft said the idea of establishing a ‘pocket park’ on two adjacent parcels on East Main Street, one owned by Centro Civico and the other owned by the city, had been discussed for years, but has finally been made into a reality thanks to a $5,500 grant obtained by the Montgomery County Soil and Water Conservation District.
Bearcroft said the money has been used for materials to construct ten 4×8 wooden box planters, and will be used for picnic tables, a water tank and some bushes to screen the entrance to what has been named the “Esperanza Verde Park.”
She said it has the potential to become a hub for gardening education and a source of freshly grown food, while the city continues to attempt to find a suitable supermarket chain to locate inside the city.
“It’s true in cities, but also throughout the county, that many people don’t know where their food comes, how it physically gets to the grocery store,” she said. “So, if we have something in place that has healthy alternatives, and how to grow your own food from seedling to when you pick it, I think that can go leaps and bounds to help transform how communities see food and consume food.”
Several organizations helped the effort to build the planters for the park and fill them with soil, including: the city, the Montgomery County Soil and Water Conservation District, Grow Amsterdam, Centro Civico, and Creative Connections Clubhouse.
Alberto Beltran, who was appointed the interim senior director for Centro Civico June 29, was one of the volunteers that helped build the boxes. He said the English translation of Esperanza Verde is a “Green Hope”, which he believes the pocket park will be, not only for the residents of the East End, but for everyone in Amsterdam.
“We’re going to have a chance to work on the garden, and that not only gives you a sense of ownership, especially on East Main, but it also gives you an opportunity to teach and get students and parents and the elderly to get involved and possibly change the diets of our community,” he said. “It’s funny, I learned growing up, just from going to school and having different friends, that in my house we never eat broccoli, or the healthy foods. We ate good tasting foods, but not necessarily foods that were good for you, so one of the goals of Esperanza Verde is an opportunity to grow some vegetables and have your family try a vegetable they’ve maybe never had before.”
Beltran said Centro Civico’s merger with the Ibero-American Action League, headquartered in Rochester, will also play a part in the establishment of the pocket park. Beltran said the Ibero-American Action League has helped to organize similar community gardens in Rochester as well as other new community programs the organization is going to help Centro Civico bring to Amsterdam.
L. Bernadette Twente, the founder and president of Grow Amsterdam NY, helped with building the wooden planter boxes. Her organization has maintained a community garden at 78 Wall St. for the last five years. Her organization also teaches composting, a method of using about 28 percent of the food waste generated by households as a form of a nitrogen-rich fertilizer. She said she wants to bring her composting training to Esperanza Verde Park.
“This will give people the opportunity to grow their own fresh produce, which is good for the community as a whole,” Twente said. “It’s good for your pocketbook, and it’s a good experience to eat something you grew with your own hands. We’re encouraging people to come out and get a box, or share a box with somebody.”
Bearcroft said the plan is for late plantings of garlic in 2020, and then a full planting year starting in the spring of 2021.
She said anyone who lives in the city can volunteer to take ownership of a box or a portion of a box by contacting Centro Civico (518-842-3762), Creative Connections Clubhouse (518-212-5905) or by emailing her at [email protected]
“Realistically, we could have 30 families participate in this, because these planter boxes are very large, so you could definitely split them with three families each,” Bearcroft said.