With great commitment, diversity and large scale expansion, Norristown Borough's First Community Garden was established in 2010 at Greater Norristown PAL. For the last four years, the GNPAL Community Garden has been worked, tilled, maintained and cared for by not only new people every year, in later winter and early spring, but regularly by people like Joel Snyder of the Salvation Army, Nancy Chronister and her son Sam, a graduate of NAHS. The daily maintenance has been handled by the Program Director, Kenneth A. Fennal, exclusively (pictured in the photographs below).
It started with NAHS Student, Sam Chronister, who was working on an Eagle Scout Project. He combined it with the garden and began building the perimeter fencing, along with his father. This included cement bases, pressured wood posting, metal brackets and fasteners, as well as chicken wire. Sam was assisted by fellow NAHS students, ninth through twelfth graders.They all participated in the planting, soil tilling, garden layout, existing weeding and maintenance of the garden.
The GNPAL Community Garden has had four stages ofexpansions and or modifications, starting as just as a vision about creating and enhancing Norristown Borough. Now it has evolved into a three section, flowers, fruits, herbs and vegetables community garden, with a top covering all sections of the garden.
The Annual Kick-Off, always the second Saturday in May, is always well-attended by volunteers from corporation, nonprofit,community members and youth, in particular, the NAHS JROTC students. The NAHS JROTC have annually participated in the Kick-offs. They were involved in the layout of the garden, tilling it, planting of the produce, watering and weed work.
At the Kick-off, when the planting took place, the produce included tomatoes, lettuce, peppers and marigolds, along the perimeter.The diameters were about 20 feet in length, in two sections that were created in the first phase of GNPAL Garden. Cherry and bell peppers were grown until the end of November of 2010.
An integral part of the maintenance were the marigolds. They were used to keep rodents away from the garden plants. In addition, no insecticides or chemical products were used, from the first year to present. Only natural sunlight, mushroom soil, water and bees were used to grow all of the garden residents. There was never a problem with dogs, cats or any rodents, to date.
In 2011, the Garden expanded to entire length of the building rear, which is about 75 feet by 12 feet. It now included swish chards, and more varieties of peppers and tomatoes, squash and cucumbers. The Garden produced more than ample food to donate to the Salvation Army and actually was more than they could handle. The Norristown Family House Women's Shelter became an additional resource and recipient for the GNPAL Garden produce. In the second year, the dominant vegetables produced were green bell peppers and tomatoes.
The third year led to a once again expanded garden and the most productive overall, specifically with tomatoes. More than 1,000 cherry, regular and giant tomatoes were grown until late October. In yet the third phases of expansion, a flower section was added, enhancing the natural beauty of a community garden, with succulent, aromatic flowers. The sunflower plants grew to over twelve feet high and continue to grow until mid-November. They started from seeds and grew quickly over the summer months.
The biggest problems were squirrels and birds, especially robins and blue jays. They were constantly attacking the fruits and tomatoes. The birds ate all the black and blueberries and the few strawberries that were produced this year. The squirrels were a constant problem all summer long because they kept making meals on the tomatoes, but never finished the whole tomato. Something had to be done to stop this detrimental intrusion on the GNPAL Garden.In the fourth year, the GNPAL Garden now produces fruits, herbs and vegetables. The vegetables include carrots, radishes, cabbage, lettuce, spinach, cucumbers, eggplant, squash, zucchini, tomatoes and peppers. Herbal seasonings include basil, chocolate mint, mint, cilantro and thyme. The spring/summer season is enhanced by blackberries, blueberries and strawberries and most recently, pumpkins. All this is protected by an overhead mesh screen that keeps out enemies of the fruits and vegetables, like birds and squirrels.
The garden is complimented by a wider, more vibrant,colorful flower section of green, orange, pink, purple, red, violet and yellow flowers. It includes daisies, lilies, marigolds, petunias and roses. These flowers are necessary for the pollination process of the fruits and vegetables, which actually produce flowers before they create the fruit and vegetable that is harvested. Bees go back and forth, from the flowers to the herbs, to the fruits to the vegetables, transferring pollen and nectar between the green plants and the nesting areas.
Already, at the end of May of 2013, the garden is producing "red" strawberries, with blueberries blossoming with premature berries. The cherry tomatoes are coming into view and should be fully green in a week or two. The pumpkin plants already have large leaves. The pepper plant shave already doubled in size, while the bean plants are already lining up in nice rows. We are already producing more than the previous year, at a much faster rate.
Only time will tell how much more productive our garden will be in 2013…Stay tuned!!!
Submitted by Ken Fennal, GNPAL Garden Program Director
Gardens were growing all summer long across the Norristown Area School District!
A major part of the Farm to School Initiative* in Norristown Area School District is to build edible gardens in the Norristown community.
In the past, we have had successful gardens in a few schools. Our goal during the 2012-13 school year was to expand existing gardens, start new ones, and establish partnerships with community members to increase access to fresh local foods. Listed below are just a few of the garden projects that began in the spring:
Paul Fly’s Educational Garden – In the past, the teachers at Paul Fly successfully built a school garden. The cafeteria staff worked with teachers to maintain the gardens. The students were able to sample foods in the cafeteria like arugula and tomatoes. This season, more supplies were purchased for the garden project like educational materials, seeds and structural supplies
Stewart’s Peach Garden – A few years ago, the school was awarded the Muhammad Ali Peace Garden grant in their efforts to grow crops while creating a peaceful atmosphere for students and staff. This growing season, we have continued to support this mission and make the garden bigger. In years past, students have tasted crops like rosemary, tomatoes, oranges, lettuce, and much more.
Norristown Area High School Hot House – The senior high has made the commitment to grow crops in the hothouse.Educational supplies, hanging plants, shelving and various supplies were bought to support their effort.
Norristown Community Gardens – The Norristown Municipality and the Norristown State Hospital partnered with the community to create two community gardens, one at Bart Ash Park and the other at the Norristown State Hospital grounds. Both expert and beginner gardeners were welcome to apply for a garden plot, and use the plots at no cost to grow crops for their family. Among the applicants were the students of the Hancock Elementary School. The kick off took place on April 27th. The fencing was assembled and the plots were outlined. Members of the community came to help,along with staff from Lowe’s, master gardeners from Penn State Cooperative Extension and staff members from Hancock Elementary. After the kick-off, local Boy Scouts came and assembled the raised beds. The School District helped to transport soil to the site. The students at Hancock planted their seeds – and the cafeteria staff started a plot for produce to be served in the cafeteria.
Another part of this initiative included opportunities to take gardening classes and healthy cooking classes. The School District supported these activities with supplies and educational resources.
Farm to School is broadly defined as a program that connects schools (K-12) and local farms with the objectives of serving healthy meals in school cafeterias, improving student nutrition, providing agriculture, health and nutrition education opportunities, and supporting local and regional farmers, according to the National Farm to School Network.