Wednesday, 23 May 2012

The Story of Whitney Avenue Urban Farm

One of the highlights of this year's documentary, In Transition 2.0, was Whitney Avenue Urban Farm, created by Chris Condello, alongside Transition Pittsburgh, USA. In this blog, written last autumn, he bids farewell to this extraordinary neighbourhood project and guerrilla garden.

Sadly Whitney Avenue Urban Farm will be moving at the end of this season. For a while I was freaking out but I hope that as this door closes a new one will open. The farm is situated on two vacant lots and one of them is going to be purchased at some point and turned into a side yard. I personally can not afford to purchase the land and since I do not own the home next to the lots the Allegheny County vacant land program is absolutely no help to me. But the space will be going to good use and will make several small girls very happy. For the time being I plan on moving all of my perrenials, blueberry bushes, grape vines, raspberry bushes, bricks and all of my arbors to the other lot but this will by no means be permanent. This brings me to the subject of this blog... The downside of guerrilla gardening. At least I had a heads up and will be able to recover all of my permanent plants but I would assume this will not always be the case.

I built almost all of my beds out of stacked bricks in anticipation that I may have to move them some day. I have two grape arbors that will need moved as well but I did not use concrete on any of the posts so they will just pop right out of the ground. I am hoping that I will be able to dig up as much of my amended soil as possible and move it as well. When I am done I plan on re-seeding the grass and leaving it a little nicer than when I started gardening. My natural reaction is always to fight but in this case I just have to sit back and ride it out.

I want to stress that I still believe that guerrilla gardening is a good thing but I will be sure to be more carefull in the future. At least I was able to bring joy to the little dead end street I currently live on. My neighbors ate high quality home grown vegetables for the past two seasons and I got to teach a group of kids how to garden and someday be able to feed their own families. We have had parties centered around the garden and this October we plan on having a halloween party/pig roast for the neighborhood as one last gathering before I move everything.

I was recently accepted to the Penn State Master Gardeners Program and am hoping that it will open some new doors for me. I have also been offerred ten vacant lots on a hilltop in homewood that could become the new farm/neighborhood I have been looking for.We have really done some great things in this neighborhood in the past year and a half and I am positive that it could be re-created in any neighborhood my girlfriend and I move to. I wish I could say that I was definately planning on staying in Wilkinsburg but I don't really know.

I have had a dream that started before we even moved into our apartment on Whitney Avenue. The dream was as simple as being able to have a place to teach the neighborhood kids how to grow their own vegetables. We accomplished this and I have learned from mistakes made, I am not positive whether we will end up moving but I will go wherever I will be appreciated. I have had a lot of people tell me that it doesn't matter how much work I put into the garden if I can't buy the land. I wish they would realize that even if I wanted to buy the land since I don't own the property directly next to the garden Neighbor has first choice to purchase and legally there is nothing I can do.

In closing be careful where you guerrilla garden because at any time it can be taken away from you! And be careful how much time, work and money you put into it because when you are about to lose it you will be the only person that that will matter to. Make sure everything that you build can be moved if needed and mentally prepare for the fact that one day someone will want to do something with your garden due to the fact that all of the hard work you have done has inspired someone to purchase what was otherwise a crappy vacant lot.. Just try and look at the positive aspects of the situation and keep your head up. It is not the end of the world even though it feels like it, hopefully your initial reaction will be better than mine was.

Peace - Chris Condello

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