Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

A Garden Grows: Veggies, learning take root at Camp Curtin Y.

Gardeners in action in the Camp Curtin Y’s new community garden.

What’s growing at the Camp Curtin YMCA’s new Community Garden project?

Sustainability, fresh produce and education.

The program aims to provide S.T.E.M. Summer Camp students with the tools and resources needed to understand and create organic foods. In 2017, Giant Food Stores awarded the YMCA a multi-year, $20,000 grant to help launch the program for its 65 participants.

“The goal for the garden is the have the kids actually be able to plant, grow, understand what they are growing, and for us to take the food back and actually implement it into their meals,” said Jamien Harvey, the YMCA’s executive director.

Only three weeks into the project, and the garden is already sprouting green. Located at the back of the 6th street building, the community garden features peppers, tomatoes, squash, sunflowers, corn, basil and other herbs and produce.

The learning doesn’t stop with growing the food. Rafiyqa Muhammad, the garden manager, is teaching the kids sustainability by incorporating recycled materials into the garden and teaching them how to solarize—use the sun’s rays—to kill harmful plants like poison ivy.

And the students aren’t the only ones learning. Muhammad said this type of gardening was foreign to her. Reading, workshops and practice taught her what she needed to know to relay the information to the kids.

“It’s something that God just put on my heart a couple years ago,” she said. “My husband told me I would figure it out, so I figured it out.”

Harvey said that, besides gardening technique, students also are learning a work ethic.

“I did not know how much went into this until we got knee-deep in truckloads of mulch,” he said. “We’ve been working these last three weeks. Just to get it to the point where it is now, we’ve been working.”

The community garden is only part of the YMCA’s sustainability projects. The organization also has partnered with Capital Region Water to create a water catchment, or collection, system.

With the permission of a neighboring resident, the YMCA will attach an object to the back and front gutters of the home. When it rains, the water will go through the gutters and into a compartment, where the water is stored and used later to water crops.

“It’s part of a neighborhood initiative around sustainability, specifically when the water runs off, where does that water go?” said Rosie Turner YMCA’s director of marketing and communications. “We’re teaching [the students] about their own consumption and how they can impact the planet.”

According to Turner, programs such as the garden help the YMCA connect with its community and the youth within it.

“I think, you walk around and you see the kids and they’re smiling and they’re happy and they’re engaged,” she said. “It’s summertime, and they’re at a place where they feel safe and protected, and that’s really the goal of the Y.”

The Camp Curtin YMCA is located on 2135 N 6th St., Harrisburg. For more information, visit

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