I visited the Olivet Heavenly Harvest Garden in the middle of the Coronavirus pandemic on a bright sunny day in June 2020. Punctuating the lively socially distanced conversations taking place was the chop chop sound of ice choppers and spades being used to reduce the size of the compostable material to help speed up the composting process. The raised beds were lush with all types of vegetables, most of which was destined for distribution to local food pantries. This was a necessary change made by the gardeners to safely garden in the time of the pandemic. In 2020, 1650 pounds of vegetables were donated to pantries run by a local Methodist Church, Community Health Action of Staten Island, El Centro, the Refrigerator, The Schoenstatt Sisters of Mary and a soup kitchen at Project Hospitality. This list only highlights the number of people who are food insecure.
In a normal season, produce is given away each Saturday to people in the community. The gardeners roll out a covered produce stand built by volunteers recruited by Ralph, a young gardener, as his Eagle Scout project. The gardeners don't have to advertise their giveaways. With just word of mouth in the neighborhood, the vegetables are often all given away before the 10 am to 1 pm hours are over. They have regular Saturday visitors including one woman who loves green tomatoes and would always request them. In addition to tomatoes they grew garlic, okra, bok choy, collard greens, lettuce, beans and cucumbers.
Having visited community gardens throughout the US as well as in England and Sweden, I've seen many types of community gardens. The Olivet Heavenly Harvest Garden inspired me more than any other. There is a very active multi-generational group of gardeners here. Many of them are cancer survivors. They are all supportive of each other’s circumstances but from what I saw there were no limits on the work or activities going on.
They have a unique way of organizing the garden. The plots are "rented " to local people who can afford it for $100. The core group of gardeners tend the plots for the renters who will get a head of lettuce or a tomato or two from time to time but the largest share of the produce is donated. This coming season they plan to grow 2000 pounds of produce by utilizing a space to grow onions and potatoes down the block in the backyard of the house used by the minister.
The garden is located on the grounds of Olivet Presbyterian Church on Staten Island. In highly developed cities like New York, very little municipal land is available for planting community gardens, so land owned by churches, mosques or synagogues is being used more and more often. This is a perfect example of that trend.