Building and Serving Community through a Garden: The Wedge
Shamsa Visone (left) with gardeners and volunteers at the Wedge Community Garden.
In 2012 when Shamsa Visone and her husband were preparing to move from California to the Triangle, it was actually the Wedge Community Garden that brought her to her new neighborhood in Raleigh. She knew she wanted to be part of a communal garden, one without individual plots, where she could become part of the garden and where people get to know each other.
Since she arrived in Raleigh in August 2012, Visone has made a real impact in the community; today she is the Director of Operations for the Wedge Community Garden, which takes its name from a wedge of land owned by the Alexander YMCA.
The garden’s mission is to promote a healthy and connected neighborhood through gardening together, educating neighbors and volunteers, and sharing the harvest with neighbors, volunteers and those in need. Members of the Hillsborough Citizens Advisory Council (CAC) had approached the Alexander YMCA about gardening on a vacant lot it owned at the corner of Cox Ave. and Park Ave. in the Pullen Park neighborhood. The YMCA was on board, and the group applied for a $1,000 grant from the Hillsborough CAC Yearly Fund. With a variety of in-kind donations from neighbors, community organizations and others, the garden has flourished, providing food for many but a true sense of community and connections as well.
In 2014, Wedge donated 285 pounds of fresh produce to Plant a Row for the Hungry, which equates to more than 1,000 meals, 30 pounds to the Food Pantry on Hillsborough St. and about 200 pounds to Wedge neighbors, gardeners, volunteers and NC State Students. The 2014 growing season yielded more than food though; it grew community with more than 90 Haven House volunteers, 62 neighborhood volunteers, 89 students and 10 gardeners involved in the garden.
Asset-based Community Development
Visone said she had learned about asset-based community development (ABCD) in California, and this was her chance to put it to work. ABCD considers local assets as the building blocks of sustainable community development, and builds on the skills, power and support of local residents, associations and institutions. “ABCD is important to the Wedge because we are not a 501(c)3. If we didn’t have in-kind support, the garden wouldn’t be where it is today and the community wouldn’t be involved.”
Visone said she was attending the Hillsborough CAC meetings and saw that community members want to be engaged but need a reason to be involved. So she would email them and tell them not only about the garden, but that they could stop by a given location at a given date and time to pick up free onions, for example. “I started to give out food so people would know it’s a communal garden. And with ABCD, you get people involved in various ways. You don’t have to be a gardener to be involved. You can be supportive and be involved without gardening.”
Engaging Youth from Haven House
Part of the Wedge’s community outreach involves having Haven House youth come out to the garden every week during the growing season for two hours, or sometimes longer, for community service hours. She works one-on-one with 10- to 16-year-olds from Haven House on Saturdays to help them get their community service hours and to make connections with them, or she pairs them with one of the gardeners. “They do a lot of work, filling beds with soil and planting, and we teach them about soil quality, where to plant and how to plant. They enjoy it because they are outdoors and because they get attention from us, connecting one-on-one,” Visone said.
Mentoring Students: WedgeConnect
WedgeConnect is a program that also serves community, Visone said. This program links college students with local professionals who mentor students in their future profession and develop a project at the Wedge. Visone then finds a volunteer group and funding to sponsor the actual implementation of that project. The recent addition of a greenhouse at Wedge is an example of this, as well as the development of a line of “Wedge” tomatoes.
“There are a lot of connections being made. The purpose is that a student is mentored by a professional in a field he or she may choose to enter, and it may lead to a job, but the students are also learning communication and leadership and collaboration skills,” Visone said.
Service Raleigh at Wedge on March 28
On March 28, the Wedge will participate in Service Raleigh with NC State students helping to plant the garden, and a neighborhood lunch will be held from 11 am-1 pm. Anyone who wants to be part of the day or to serve a professional mentor for WedgeConnect may contact Visone at firstname.lastname@example.org. Learn more about the Wedge at its website and check out this recent video.