Monday, January 26, 2015

Paying It Forward

206 Lafayette Place is the site of a Community Garden that is making history.

Joe Mironov, Master Gardener wraps up a
lesson on building hoop gardens to extend
the growing season.
The Teaching Garden - The Garden located at Genesee Avenue and Lafayette Place, has been in existence for over 100 years. We have not found anyone alive who remembers when the garden was not there. When I moved here in 1967, my grandma and I passed the Garden on the way home from First Baptist Church or from visiting her 1st cousin who lived on Franklin Road. She told me the story of a man named Mr. Becote who used to drive a horse drawn wagon and cared for the garden. We have interviewed Lewis Becote’s late 89 year old cousin Clarence Becote of Teaneck. Gloria Williams, formerly of Englewood was also interiewed. Clarence Becote built and lived in the house on the corner of Green St. and Genesee Avenue across the street from Tributary Woods. We made a short film of the interview.  Mr. Clarence Becote had some very interesting insight into life in Englewood and the Public School system. 
Esther Babb and Rosalind Byrd gathered
Community children to help move
the lumber.
Theresa Thomas, 4th Ward, District 2 Committee Person and Chairwoman of the Englewood Democratic Committee inadvertently helped us with our research in her zeal to see that the Community Garden not exist. Theresa found Lewis Becote's registration for the Old Man's Draft in 1942. Due to this discovery, we changed the spelling of the ancient caretaker's name to the original spelling. It seems that factions of the family may not have changed the original spelling indicated on the draft registration records. That however, did not pose a problem. The hero here is the site, the land itself. It is an Historic Place in a town without a Historic Preservation Commission. It is a postage stamp of green in a town with almost no Open Space left. Our Community Garden name is The Louie Bacoat Community Garden. We are not allowed the word Historic in the title. No problem, the word is in our Hearts.

Norman Gainey, Curtis Caviness,
John Babb, Dorian Milteer work together
to set the boxes for the raised beds.
Memories - We have also spoken with Mr. Arnold Brown, who is 82 years old and has the longest Englewood family history of anyone I know. He does not remember a time when the garden was not there. We have spoken with Ms. Joyce Harris a 3rd Ward resident who also knows of the garden’s long history. Joyce has a long and rich history in Englewood. We learned that she lived with her family in the MacKay Park Gate House for many years. She says it was the first time that she had ever lived in a home with an indoor bathroom. We interviewed Ralph Lewis (72) who also had a very animated and detailed recollection of how Louie Bacoat cultivated the Genesee/Lafayette Garden. Ralph also related that Louie Bacoat also cultivated the garden plot where the present 3rd Street Community Garden is located.
Samuel A. Williams, Carol Williams
Elizabeth Castillo and John Babb
Under Construction Still - People in the neighborhood have pitched in to make this a real Community effort. The people working in the dirt are the ones who are paying for all of the materials. This is the 4th Ward working together with people from all wards and walks of life to make something lasting and beautiful.

Merrick is spreading the soil in the
4th and 5th grade box that he moved
in his very first experience using
a wheelbarrow.
The Teaching Garden - 7 beds, one full section of the garden area has been set aside for teaching the children in the Community how to grow vegetables for food. The people who control the Production of Food will control the world. We will always need food. Hopefully, the children will do better at saving the planet than today's adults. Children will learn to start plants from seed at home and under the hoop gardens in our Louie Bacoat Community Garden. We will help them understand the cycle of life of garden plants. Hopefully they will embrace the idea of growing their own Super Foods and the act of giving to those less fortunate.
When the work started, people from the surrounding Community stopped and asked if they could become a part of the effort. No one was refused. 

They came through for us.
A nearby house was under renovation. The owner looked out the bedroom window facing the garden and gave the workers her approval to help us construct the boxes that hold the raised beds together. We have debt of gratitude for the men working in that house. They were and still are our heroes. They helped make the dream possible. Thank you guys.

James Evans & George Garrison III
George Garrison III did his part and looked as if he knew what he was doing. I believed him when he said he was used to the work. JamesEvans entertained us with stories of how he rode on Mr. Bacoat's wagon and helped him deliver the produce around town when he was a boy. Mr. Bacoat paid him in collard greens that his Mother whipped up for the entire family. There are also stories about Mr. Bacoat's horse scaring a couple of girls up onto their steps.

We were criticized for accepting help from the County in an Election Year. Well, we not only accepted help. We asked for it. We needed it. The County made several trips here to turn over the hard compacted soil. The first time the machine was not up to the job. It did not till deeply enough. They returned whenever we asked for help. They sent a bob cat to help us fill the boxes with soil. They sent smaller one when the large one proved unwieldy in the space.

They returned with an old fashioned harrow disc that did the job of traditional heavy duty farm equipment after it was weighted down with large stones from the site. It was a pleasure to work with the people from the County. They were very encouraging. We hope that politics has not changed that.

The County responded when we needed soil to fill the boxes. The soil was purchased and sent to the site. It was good quality topsoil. It was clean and ready to mix with the well cured cow manure that was donated by our Master Gardener. That truck made 3 trips that day. This was the very best way to see our tax dollars at work. It makes one feel there truly is hope. Did it occur to me that it was an election year. I was thinking about the project. It seemed perfectly natural and okay that a sincere request was answered positively.

August 9, 2014, the garden was officially opened. The Master Gardener planted the first vegetables in what he called out demonstration box. Joe grew the seedlings in this box in his own little greenhouse at home. He provided most of the Community Gardeners with seeds and seedlings to begin their first season of planting. Mr. Gainey planted green beans the next day that actually produced fruit for harvest in just 30 days. I must remember to ask him to send us some seed from South Carolina.

These 2 guys were just passing through town. They own a landscaping business in another City. They were impressed and encouraged by what they saw and wanted to be part of it. They were strong young men and made a tremendous contribution to post hold digging and setting the heavy wooden boxes in place.

Dr. Arnold Brown poses for a selfie with his daughter and hard working Abbie Kesely from the Bergen County 4H. Abbie arrived early with her nephew and pitched right in to move soil into the boxes already constructed.

Dorian Milteer, Director of Curriculum and Instruction in the Englewood Public School District gave us hours of Community Service on several occasions. It is hoped that we will be able to partner with the School District in teaching students how to garden for food, health, fun and charity.

Steve, Curtis and Joe connect a hose to our neighbor across the street, Mitchell's Auto Body Shop. This business has been in the neighborhood since the 70's. The owners and workers have watched the hard work that goes into maintaining the lot. They have made sandwiches and salads from the produce. On August 9, 2014, they were there with their support and supplied water to quench the thirst of the newly planted demonstration bed.

Mitchell's Auto Body donated 2 large loads of soil and have proven to be extremely good neighbors to the garden. They also made a donation towards the purchase of lumber used in the construction of the raised beds. They loaned us tools, electricity.

This massive Napa Cabbage was harvested from Joe the Master Gardener's demonstration box. These massage cabbage last a long time in the crisper of the refrigerator. The stuffed Napa Cabbage leaves were delicious. I dipped the giant leaves in boiling water for a few seconds, allowed them to cool and made my own version of kim chi. 

Ebenezer Baptist Church's new young minister watched us work for days. Pastor Davis decided to lend a hand. He shoveled soil for several hours. He worked until dark and then ministered to the passersby. He has been bringing his ministry out into the Community in the form of Prayer Vigils for over a year now. We are blessed that he decided to give us time, support and encouragement at a time when we sincerely needed it. 

This is the inside of our very first hoop garden. These tender vegetables were very tasty. Some of the ones that were planted from seed are still thriving beneath the plastic in the frozen ground. It is a marvel to behold. The ones in the photo were harvested at Thanksgiving and more at Christmas.

One of the beds was planted especially for the Annual Thanksgiving Dinner at 111 West Street. Crystal Brown and I harvested the giant healthy plants and delivered them to the chef's house the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. I attended this year's celebration and was sincerely impressed by the effort and love that goes into the preparation for this event. The greens were a hit at the party.

George Owens and Norman Gainey worked the lot together for many years until Mr. Owens had to retire from the gardening because of his health. Mr. Gainey, the South Carolina native is standing on a piece of City land that he farmed for a quarter century. He is one of a long line of southern born African American men who have worked this fertile piece of earth. In 2011, I started traveling with my camera. Missing shots like this is not an option. 

In September, Norman Gainey and his family moved back to South Carolina. He taught us a lot about farming this spot before he left. He helped plan and care for the raised beds and was the Supervisor. He visited the garden daily in the am when he took his daily 5 mile walk. 

He surprised everyone when he refused to water his beans. He made a sign of cardboard and posted it in his beds. He warned people not to water his beds. He believes that the faucet water is not a good nutrient for the soil. He assured us that he never watered the site except when planting new young seedlings. His green beans were ready for harvest 30 days after he planted them. 
We gave our friend a farewell, we love and appreciate you party at Galilee United Methodist Church up the block from the Louie Bacoat Historic Community Garden.
Left to Right: Betty Griffin, The Gainey Family, Crystal Brown, Valerie Hamer,
Wayne Hamer,Richard Stanard, Lucy D. Walker, Kevin Lake, Curtis Caviness,
Esther Santiago-Babb.
Norman Gainey, Lucy D. Walker, 4th Ward Council Wayne Hamer
Joe Mironov and his wife Carol. Joe is a Rutger's certified
Master Gardener and our Consultant
Esther Babb spent many of her early mornings pulling weeds, turning over soil,
moving soil and leveling it.
I received a Happy New Year card from the Gainey Family a couple of weeks ago. They have settled in South Carolina and Norman is planning his spring plantings.

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