Emily Gibbs, ’14, prepares to plant spinach with a group of children from the South Side Boys and Girls Club last August. Community Growers partners with the Boys and Girls Club to educate about growing locally. (Courtesy of Emily Gibbs)

Community Growers club involve Bethlehem community in local gardening

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South Bethlehem is commonly referred to as a food desert, but Lehigh’s Community Growers club is hoping to change that reputation by bringing organic gardens to the area.

“We wanted to bring the local food movement to Bethlehem. Bethlehem is a food desert — meaning there isn’t enough fresh food available for the residents. Mostly there are just processed foods available,” Emily Gibbs, ’14, said.

She said the club’s first and most fruitful project was to create a local garden called the Esperanza Garden and involve the surrounding community. Community Growers worked with the Bethelehem Boys and Girls Club, the Broughal Middle School soccer team, a local church group and other Lehigh students to bring the community together while educating the students of all ages about vegetable gardening, sustainability and healthy eating.

Planting, watering, harvesting, and then using the food they grew in recipes they cook themselves is a huge lesson to take home,” Katelyn Armbruster, ’12, said. “It’s not something you do in one hour. It’s work that accumulates potential for positive growth each week we go into the community to work on these garden projects together.”

The Community Growers club was born in the fall of 2013, when a few Lehigh students learned about permaculture — a design system that keeps agriculture and ethics in mind, according to the Permaculture News website — at a conference over the summer. The group was inspired to create a club that tackled global food production and trade issues in a local way.

The club has many initiatives that align with the goals that Brenden Michaelis, ’17, defined as “earth care, people care, and fair share,” which intertwine environmental work and benefiting the community.

The club now operates three gardens including the Esperanza Garden on the Greenway between Webster and Taylor streets, the MLK Garden near Carlton avenue and the Lehigh Community Gardens on Goodman campus.

The club works with the Community Relations Office; Breena Holland, associate professor of Political Science and the Environmental Initiative; Dale Kochard, the assistant vice president of Community and Regional Affairs; as well as the City of Bethlehem to maintain the gardens.

The Esperanza Garden was created after the Community Gardens club lost the land on which they had developed their original garden, the Maze Garden, when the city sold it to a luxury apartment developer. Gibbs and others argued at the city council meeting and gained support from Kochard and former Lehigh president, Alice Gast, to create the plot of land that became the Esperanza Garden. The garden now has eight beds to grow vegetables and 14 fruit trees and bushes.

Other events the club puts on are a farmers market food drive, a fair trade event in which members educate about the fair trade label, and several events hosted on the Greenway where Community Growers provides food and explains the significance of their garden to local residents.

The Community Growers club highlights the idea that doing work locally — both growing and education — is an important step in the sustainability movement.

“I truly believe this is the best club going at Lehigh,” Armbruster said. 

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