A coalition of community groups in Reading is in the running for a $5,000 grant to support a community garden, but they need help.
"After the success of the Victory Gardens last spring, we got a magnificent group of people to help build a community garden in the 18th Ward," said neighborhood alliance organizer Tanya Melendez.
Last year, 100 garden boxes were distributed to residents in Oakbrook.
The group includes the Reading Housing Authority, Berks County Community Health Center, the 18th Wonder, the Food Trust, Berks Nature and the city of Reading as well as neighbors in the area.
The group applied for a grant from Gardens for Good, a program of Nature's Path Organics, a Canadian independent organic breakfast and snack food brand.
"We applied for a grant, and it requires community votes to be one of the recipients," said Melendez in an email. The deadline is Wednesday, April 7.
The Nature’s Path Organics’ Gardens for Good contest awards $5,000 each to 21 community garden projects across the U.S. and Canada. Winners are selected based on total number of votes and an application review.
The 18th Wonder project has 175 votes as of Monday afternoon. The highest vote-getter from Silver Spring, Md., has more than 1,400 votes.
"If we can get this funded this will be a little gem in our community," Melendez wrote. "So many organizations have committed to creating it, on-boarding new gardeners, (teaching) water conservation practices, (making) learning activities for the community at large."
The housing authority serves more than 1,600 low-income residents in the proposed garden site.
"A mere eight community gardens exist in our city of 88,000 to create healthy green community spaces," the group wrote in its proposal on the Gardens for Good website. "Oakbrook Community garden will help us provide opportunities for more of our most underserved and vulnerable residents to grow their own vegetables, herbs, and flowers. It will help hold space and beautify our urban areas by changing the aesthetic and the spirit of a community."
Food deserts are prevalent in Reading, and the COVID-19 pandemic has heightened food insecurity.
Since 2007, the housing authority and its resident councils have been working with Berks Nature, establishing five organic community gardens in its elderly and disabled high-rise communities and the other in its mixed family community.
The proposal says it has been a goal of the housing authority to have gardens growing in each of the seven properties of 1,610 public housing units.
"Last year gardeners planted everything from tomatoes to peppers, to cilantro to squash," the group wrote in its proposal. "It was discovered that although many gardeners enjoy bending to the soil, other residents find it easier and more enjoyable planting in a raised garden. We have had several raised gardens from the beginning but last year built an additional 18 raised gardens. The gardens have improved relations and have fostered great relationships amongst gardeners and other residents."
The project is part of a larger initiative by Councilwoman Lucine Sihelnik to start an urban agriculture program in the city.