Members of Syracuse Grows Hope to Improve Community Gardens

Group to hold sixth annual resource drive this Saturday

Syracuse Grows, a nonprofit organization dedicated to bringing “food justice” to the city’s residents, hopes to raise $10,000 this year. Some of the money will help buy supplies that would better allow it to help local gardens, some of which are on the South Side.

The organization’s chair, Sarah Brown, said working with neighborhoods and community members is the best way to achieve this. “Our main mission is to cultivate a just food system in the city of Syracuse where everyone has access to healthy, safe, affordable and culturally appropriate food,” Brown said.

Jonnell Robinson | Photo by Kimberly Kramer

At Syracuse Grows’ annual meeting this year, the group discussed its 2014 goals, including fund raising and its ability to add more volunteers. Jonnell Robinson, the vice chair of the board, said Syracuse Grows has been slowly growing in size, but that only with more volunteers could it expand. Currently, the 10 people on the advisory board are volunteers.

Still, Robinson said she thinks Syracuse Grows has a good effect on the community. “It’s about food and community, and bringing those two things together. We get lots of people out of their houses and into the garden,” Robinson said.

There are four functions of the organization: programming, education, advocacy and resources. These involve planning events, education, working with the city and supplying growing material, such as seed and mulch.
Brown said the organization acts as a facilitator “between the city and the community gardens within the city.” Board members recently worked with city officials to draft the food system chapter of the city’s sustainability plan. Syracuse Grows will work with the city again this year to form an urban agriculture policy task force.

One way Syracuse Grows accomplishes its goals is through its member garden program, Brown said. Member gardens are community gardens that belong to Syracuse Grows. The people who run the community gardens request what they want to grow and what materials they need, and Syracuse Grows works with local organic farmers and volunteers to get the resources to the gardens.

Rose Tardiff, a Syracuse University student interning with the organization, learned about Syracuse Grows from Robinson, then her geography professor. Tardiff said that in the class, they mapped organic farms. She is now working on mapping community gardens with Syracuse Grows.

Lee Newman, a State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry professor who attended her first Syracuse Grows meeting in February, said she thought the group was interesting and wants to continue going to meetings. Lee works on “horticultural therapy” at the Syracuse VA Medical Center.

“What we’re trying to do at the hospital is get veterans who are disabled out into a garden environment,” Newman said. “We have a very large terrace garden, and in the summertime we bring the veterans out to plant and harvest fruits and vegetables.” Newman is working on another planting program for veterans, but needs volunteers to help get the garden started.