Shaken-up park soothed by community garden

Posted at 6:14 PM, Jun 28, 2012
and last updated 2012-06-28 18:14:11-04

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR)--Chimborazo Park high atop Church Hill is in transition, with lots of plugged-in neighbors working to shape – and in some cases, argue about - what is likely the most shaken-up piece of real estate in Richmond.

But it looks like there’s one thing that most can agree on: the three-year-old, 30-plot Tricycle community garden at the eastern edge of the park is a success.

“I was on the waiting list for a year,” said nearby resident Lara Kling, “and finally got this plot in May, just before the growing season started. So I planted all my seedlings the day after I found out about it.”

There’s a $50 annual fee per plot, but that includes water, tools, compost, group work sessions, tips on organic farming and a sense of family.

Sarah Huddle has been gardening there since the beginning. She has plot #1.

“When they installed – with volunteers from the community – the playground equipment, they had extra resources and extra hands that day and they came and helped create the plots,” Huddle said. “And since then, we’ve grown and doubled the number of plots we have so more people can participate.”

On a beautiful recent afternoon, gardeners worked their plots, harvesting, weeding, watering, and perhaps most importantly, visiting with one another.

Gardens in our region are bursting with bounty as tomatoes, squash, cucumbers and eggplants ripen. You’ll find some of the best pickings at the all-organic Chimborazo operation and the other parcels that make up the non-profit Tricycle Gardens throughout the city.

“People run away from us,” joked Tricycle Gardens founder Lisa Taranto. “We’ve got so much bounty.”

The community-based network has turned 10 years old, slowly transforming the neighborhoods where they’ve sprouted. The first garden, on Jefferson Street on the Hill, remains in operation. There are several others, including a larger urban farm operation at 9th and Bainbridge streets in South Richmond. Tricycle Gardens now has a Board of Directors and managers at each of the gardens.

Taranto said not everybody would listen to her dream of community gardens on city property.  “On one side you get people being  like, ‘You’re nuts. You’re a wacko, you’re a pain in our ass and what do you want now? And then on the other side, you have, ‘your’re a visionary, this is so valuable, thank you  thank you thank you.”
When she first floated the idea, there was plenty of resistance, she recalled. “’No one’s going to take care of that,’” Taranto mimicked. “’It’s going to become a big weedy mess and the city has to be responsible for it.’ You get excuses from people as to why we should not trust in ourselves as community and humans.”

Park and other city-owned property belongs to the taxpayers, she said, adding that the public space is a direct reflection of the community. If it’s run-down and neglected, it shows the community feels rundown and neglected. One the other hand, she said, if it’s beautiful and growing healthy things, the community will feel that, too.

Parts of Chimborazo Park have sunk into the old, abandoned Church Hill train tunnel below. At one point, an entire tennis court disappeared. And in 2004, one who corner of the property tumbled away as part of the sinkhole caused by Tropical Storm Gaston.

The garden is helping to anchor the rebirth of the park.

Next-door neighbor Roland Villars has watched the transformation.

“We have now an object of beauty,” he said. “We see people that we really befriend when they’re hard at work and producing food and social cohesion, friendship among themselves.

“It’s inspiring,” Villars added. “Having lived in this house since ’88, first time I’m seeing children, families, babies. You don’t know how good that feels. It’s like there’s a generation that will succeed us.”