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'Zombie' property to become community garden tended by kids

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'Zombie' property to become community garden tended by kids

One year after fire destroyed a vacant building at 822 State St., life is returning to the site.
'Zombie' property to become community garden tended by kids
James Buhrmaster helps Rachel Stone, Julian Basora, and Yazlene Velez move plants from indoors to the new outdoor community garden on the property next door to Quest, located on State St. The garden called "Jay Farm" is in memory of those who lost the...
Photographer: Marc Schultz

One year after fire destroyed a vacant building at 822 State St., life is returning to the site.

Where hoses were used to douse the blaze, children will sprinkle water on seedlings. Where the charred shell of a house once stood, vegetables will grow.

It will be a welcome change, said Quest founder and director Judy Atchinson.

Lend a hand

&bull; Help get Quest’s garden growing. To volunteer, call Judy Atchinson at 527-1784.

“It was a crack house, and I made over 35 complaints to the police department,” she said. “People were doing drugs right outside in the backyard.”

The property associated with the house was given to Atchinson’s nonprofit organization by a donor who wishes to remain anonymous, she said. The house was destroyed by fire in May 2014, and disposition of the property was complicated at that time by the fact that its owner, Prakash Singh of Amsterdam, was in prison for robbing a bank in Amsterdam and will remain there until at least 2016, when he is first eligible for parole.

The city of Schenectady paid more than $24,000 to have the two-story home demolished. City officials said at the time that Singh claimed the house had been foreclosed on by Wells Fargo Bank, but the bank apparently never moved to take the property back.

Online extra

&bull; Read Judy Atchinson's blog, A Stubborn Woman, at www.dailygazette.com.

Located next door to the lot, Quest offers an after-school program and a hot meal five days a week to children who struggle with poverty and emotional and mental problems.

Quest volunteer James Buhrmaster, whose family runs Buhrmaster Farms in Glenville, offered to help the organization start a community garden on the lot. He helped the children who attend Quest start zucchini, bean and lettuce plants indoors and is teaching them about what it’s like to work on a farm.

Other produce planned for the plot includes strawberries, squash, watermelon, onions, celery and leafy greens.

Buhrmaster said he plans to amend the soil with compost and rototill it sometime this week. Plants will go in the ground soon after.

The garden will be called Jay Farm, after Jay Street, Atchinson said.

“The kids are going to plant everything,” Buhrmaster said. “They will do a good amount of the work.”

Buhrmaster’s sister, Anna, and other community volunteers will also have a part in tending the garden.

“Vale [neighborhood] people are very excited about this,” Atchinson said. “They’re telling me to make sure we do kale and collard greens. They are going to come in and help.”

A fence will be erected on one side of the garden to prevent people from using it as a cut-through. Atchinson said she won’t fence it in entirely because she doesn’t want to shut out the community or children.

She said she’s not worried about people helping themselves to what grows there.

“I would be thrilled if they stole produce,” she joked. “We’re going to give it all away anyway. Nothing is going to be sold.”

Produce from the garden will be used in meals at Quest and community members will be invited to enjoy dishes created with the homegrown fruit and vegetables. Children who go to Quest will take part in cooking classes that teach them how to prepare the fresh produce at home.

Any produce not used in meals at Quest will be given away in the community.

Jay Farm will be a gathering place, with one or two picnic tables, one of which will be built by children who attend Quest, under the supervision of a local carpenter. A grill might also be added to the site and there will be rosebushes, which have already been donated by Buhrmaster.

Atchinson said she thinks the garden will be of great benefit to the children Quest serves, and not only for its nutritional value.

“I hope it will be a life-changing experience for them to see what they can accomplish, because we’re starting with nothing,” she said. “They’re going to see something literally rise from the ashes, and they will have been a force of change.”

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