If you’ve driven around Harrisburg recently, you may have noticed that, in some places, things appear a bit greener.
Urban gardens have begun blooming all over the city thanks to a local group whose mission is to offer gardening kits to encourage a source of healthy and sustainable food.
Harrisburg Urban Growers, an initiative of Tri-County Community Action, hosts an annual “Seed and Plant Giveaway” each year, offering gardening kits for residents. This year, the organization put social distancing procedures in place, and volunteers safely delivered the kits directly to residents over several weekends.
Donnel Brown, Tri-County’s neighborhood revitalization coordinator, said that they believe that growing natural, healthy and clean fruits and vegetables is empowering and is essential toward a sustainable and local food system in Harrisburg and the surrounding area.
“Although one of our goals is to bring people together in order to increase social cohesion, gardening is usually a meditative and solitary activity, even when it is done in small groups like a family unit or larger groups like volunteers from an organization,” Brown said, noting that they are putting up signage and adhering to PA Department of Agriculture guidelines for community gardens.
Each kit offers a variety of seeds, including lettuce, apples, strawberries, asparagus, peppers, potatoes, mint, basil, figs, raspberries, red berries, blackberries and blueberries. It’s truly a community effort. Stony Creek Valley Farm donated all the plants, the seeds came from various seed companies, and the seed pods came from the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank.
HUG then works to give families access to the tools, skills and space needed to plant a garden. There are 14 community gardens located throughout the greater Harrisburg area.
HUG believes in the creation of an urban agricultural resource hub in Harrisburg to help build social ties, to produce food to distribute to the food insecure and to form a greater sense of community, according to Tri-County Community Action.
Christa Mummau, a HUG volunteer, said that the boxes include a website that gives step-by-step instructions, as well as a postcard for those who don’t have access to the internet.
“We have resources for people and a number for them to call so a volunteer can talk to them through the instructions on implementing the kit,” Mummau said.
There’s also a Facebook page with links to videos, DIY tips and wisdom from some community members who’ve had over 30 years experience in urban gardening.
Not only is gardening good for the body, it’s also good for the mind, Brown said. It’s a way to care for something and gives people a sense of purpose and pride.
“The mental health benefits of gardening are well documented, and for many, it’s unparalleled to other mental health practices,” he said. “Gardening makes us feel good because it is both a physical exercise, which releases endorphins, and a creative outlet that allows us to express ourselves.”
Anita Hall of Uptown Harrisburg said that the kit not only helped her get started with an urban garden, but also provided a new way to socialize with other residents in her apartment complex.
“As a disabled veteran, I’ve had anxiety and PTSD for a long time,” she said. “During the pandemic, I’ve struggled with being so isolated. Receiving the kit and working to create an outdoor space allowed me to connect with my neighbors.”
In the kit, Hall received basil, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, turnips, squash, cherry tomatoes, eggplant, fennel, broccoli, kale, bell peppers in grow pods and much more.
Thrilled that HUG was able to deliver the kit, Hall has created a space to enjoy the labors of her new urban garden in front of the complex.
“Even if I don’t get one tomato, this has helped me with my anxiety and PTSD by allowing me to connect with my neighbors in a way we hadn’t been connecting in the past,” she said.
As a thank you, Hall had something to give back. She offered the volunteers homemade masks that she’s been sewing.
To learn more about Harrisburg Urban Growers, visit their Facebook page: HBG Urban Growers.