By Noell Wolfgram Evans
What makes a neighborhood? For residents of an area at Sullivant Avenue and South Highland, it’s fried squash.
They came running for the fried squash and fried green tomatoes prepared by Herman Ringer on July 29.
As one resident proclaimed as she bit into them, “This is what real love looks like.”
She was talking about the delicacy that brought her to the community garden just off Sullivant Avenue, but she could just as well have been describing Ringer, the garden, or the neighborhood itself.
She, along with many others, were taking part in the Hilltop Garden Hop where five community-run gardens invited residents in from across the city.
For five years, Ringer has been helping residents of their neighborhood garden experience the joys that can be felt by getting your hands dirty. The garden started with eight beds and now has 33. Over 80 people work in the garden or come by to learn. Ringer has helped many of them learn not just the joy of gardening, but its practicality as well.
“I tell people all the time you got to use what you got,” Ringer said. “Go out into your backyard; God gave us what we need to survive.”
Residents can rent beds at the garden for $25 for the year. The money goes into the upkeep of the beds.
Teresa Wilson was a novice gardener when the garden first started, but she took a chance with a bed. She now maintains three.
“I love to taste the fruits of my labor,” she said.
“A dollar and a prayer.”
That was the start of the Highland Youth Garden on South Highland Avenue according to Peggy Murphy. The dollar was used to secure a parcel of land from the land bank. The prayer came when she needed to secure the use of a second land parcel, one owned by the Oakley Full Gospel Baptist Church. The church granted them use of the land under one condition – that a bench be installed in the garden so that the ladies of the church could have a place to sit and enjoy the work and the workers.
Today that site has been turned into what one person declared, “The most ideal garden in the city.”
It’s location also has made it conducive to being a teaching location. Each week during the school year, more than 100 kids from Highland, the Educational Academy, and the Boys and Girls Club have come over to the garden to learn what it takes to grow your own food.
“Some of the kids have never seen a green bean or they don’t know where a tomato comes from,” said Jazmyn Benjamin, an educator at the garden.
It’s not just during the school year that the garden is filled with children; for many it’s a sort of home away from home. When they’re there they work, play, make friends, and learn.
“I have a passion for food and to expose people to foods they’ve not encountered before,” Benjamin said.
The food grown at the garden is given to the kids who grow it while the rest is shared with the nearby food pantry or sold at the farmer’s market.
Benjamin expressed a hope that this event would get more people gardening and volunteering.
“We’d love more neighbors to come out” she said.