Thursday, December 6, 2007

Please help a Phoenixville treasure - St. John's United Church of Christ Organic Community Garden and Labyrinth

If you haven't visited St. John's United Church of Christ Organic Community Garden and Labyrinth located beside and behind Phoenixville's Bethel Baptist Church on Fairview Street, you're missing a true Phoenixville treasure!

I visited the site several times over the years and viewed the bounty of the harvest produced by the hard work of community gardeners. The labyrinth is located in a peaceful setting and provides for a spiritual pathway to contemplative meditation.

In late October I was informed the gardens are in danger of losing their lease which would be a disaster for this ministry.

Dorene Pasekoff was kind enough to send the following information for posting to this blog.

I urge anyone with interest in the community garden to become involved in the effort.



Please attend the meeting regarding the future of the St. John's United Church of Christ Organic Community Garden and Labyrinth scheduled for 12/18/07, 4:30 pm – and don’t forget the Tomato Stickers!

The Tuesday, December 18th Housing Authority of Chester County Board meeting will discuss the future of the Organic Community Garden and Labyrinth located on Phoenixville's north side. The garden is currently run by St. John's United Church of Christ which leases the land from the Housing Authority of Chester County Board. On September 1, 2009, this lease expires, and the church is trying to save the garden and labyrinth by having the HACC either extend the lease for 30 years or to have them donate (as the Borough requested) or sell the land to become a public park.

The church and the gardeners would appreciate YOUR SUPPORT for this effort – please try to attend the meeting and/or consider wearing or displaying our “Save the Community Garden” Tomato stickers. We would love to have you speak on our behalf at the meeting, but just showing up and wearing a tomato sticker is important, too. Just call the church at 610-933-5311 or e-mail at to order your Tomato Stickers and we’ll make sure you get as many as you can use.

The particulars are here:


The Consistory of St. John’s United Church of Christ proposes that the Housing Authority of Chester County either extend the current lease to the long-term (30 years) for the water access and land on which St. John’s United Church of Christ Organic Community Garden and Labyrinth has stood for the past 10 years or permit this land to be donated or purchased by the Borough or County as a recognized public park dedicated to community gardening, community integration, environmental awareness and local hunger relief as it has done so successfully for the past 10 years.

The current lease expires on September 1, 2009. Consistory believes that keeping this de facto public park as much-desired public open space and continuing our multi-award winning programs on this particular site of public land provides services to the Fairview Village tenants and the greater Phoenixville community that are too valuable to lose. The reasonable solution is for St. John’s United Church of Christ Organic Community Garden and Labyrinth, as it is, where it is, to become a du jure, rather than de facto, public park.

Sue White created the following YouTube video which highlights the community garden in August 2007 and illustrates many of the themes in this proposal:

The Next Step

Tuesday, December 18, 4:30 pm, Housing Authority of Chester County Board Meeting, King Terrace Apartments, 300 High Street, Phoenixville, PA.

At this Board Meeting, during Public Participation, St. John’s United Church of Christ will formally present the its proposal to the HACC Board and state why it believes that the lease for the community garden should be continued, rather than allowed to run out on September 1, 2009. Public Participation begins at 4:30 pm. Anyone from the public may address the Board during Public Participation – the HACC Board is allowing 1 minute per speaker, so you may want to jot down your comments on a note card beforehand. The meeting will be videotaped and placed on YouTube, so look good for the camera and be sure to look for yourself afterwards!

Questions about this Consistory action may be addressed to the Pastor, the Rev. Linda Gruber at 610-933-5311 or at “Save the Community Garden” Tomato Stickers and the full text of the proposal as a “searchable by table of contents” PDF are also available by contacting the Pastor.

About The Gardens

The St. John's United Church of Christ Organic Community Garden was founded in 1991 in response to the denominational priorities of Hunger Relief and Integrity of Creation, Justice and Peace. Today, the St. John's United Church of Christ Organic Community Garden is the primary supplier of in-season, fresh produce to the food bank at Phoenixville Area Community Services (PACS). Anyone in the Phoenixville area who wants to grow their own food organically can join the community garden. We ask only that gardeners use organic growing techniques and donate 10% (the Biblical tithe) to someone in need or to a local agency which works on behalf of others (Phoenixville Area Community Services ["PACS"], Philibundance, etc.)

There are no required fees to join St. John's Organic Community Garden -- only a desire and a willingness to grow one's own food organically and return to the community at least 10% of the produce. St. Johns United Church of Christ remains the largest in season provider of fresh produce for the food bank administered by the Phoenixville Area Community Services, located on Gay and Church Streets in Phoenixville.

For more information, please see the website that was setup by St. John's about the gardens and labyrinth.


Karen said...

The Phoenix: Friday, December 7, 2007

Future of charity garden jeopardized


By Brian McCarthy,

St. John’s United Church of Christ Organic Community Garden and Labyrinth faces an uncertain future, as it plans to meet with the Housing Authority of the County of Chester to seek a lease extension.

The garden, located on .84 acres at 412 Fairview Street behind Bethel Baptist Church, and has occupied the spot for 10 years. Since 1997, St. John’s has hosted 32 to 46 gardeners per year. As the traditional Biblical tithe, the gardeners donate 10 percent of their crops to local non-profits such as Phoenixville Area Community Services and The Cornerstone Clubhouse to feed the needy, though garden coordinator Dorene Pasekoff says many gardeners donate more than that.

Gardeners can grow whatever they desire (“as long as it’s legal,” Pasekoff jokes) on their plot during the planting season, which usually lasts from March until November. Perennial volunteers work in the garden every Tuesday during the season until October, and many employees of local businesses, high school students, and both juvenile offenders and adult DUI offenders come to the garden to perform community service.

The garden has also won three awards in the past three years; the Phoenixville Area Violence Prevention Network’s Peacemaker Award in 2005, the Phoenixville Area Chamber of Commerce’s Community Betterment Award in 2006 and the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society/Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful Community Greening Award in 2007.

St. John’s lease on the property expires September 1, 2009.

Supporters of the garden are afraid that the HACC, which owns the land, will allow the lease to expire. The HACC is currently planning to build public housing in the Fairview area, which could possibly be built on the garden’s site once the lease expires.

“We support public housing, we think it’s very important,” Pasekoff said. “But it needs to be designed in a way that helps residents.”

HACC solicitor Vince Donohue said that the proposed housing is currently in the planning stages, and that nothing is final until the HACC receives approval from the U.S. Department of Housing and Development and the Borough.

“It’s really in a state of flux, because we don’t know what we want, what we’ll be able to give a concrete [decision on],” Donohue said.

The solicitor said that one of the plans does involve 10 to 12 homes, that would be built on the site currently occupied by St. John’s garden. However, he added that the only reason the HACC is pursuing plans for homes on Fairview is the need for public housing.

“Anyone will tell you there is a real scarcity of affordable housing in Chester County,” Donohue said. “There is a very dire need for affordable housing [for] the public.”

Pasekoff, Coordinator of St. John’s garden, said that the garden has helped improve the area around Fairview since it was established. She said many activities such as drag racing have ceased while others such as vandalism and drinking on the property have significantly declined.

“If we don’t keep up after that, all that stuff will keep coming,” Pasekoff said. “When we see it, we take care of it. [The garden] keeps it an open, safe place, which it was not before.”

Pasekoff and members of the garden have rallied together to build community support for the garden, including handing out stickers reading with an image of a tomato reading “Save the community garden,” which are available at St. John’s UCC (315 Gay Street) on a table by the front door. Pasekoff encourages residents to attend the HACC Board of Directors meeting on Tuesday, December 18 at 4:30 p.m. at King Terrace at 300 High Street.

“We’d appreciate as many people coming as possible,” she said.

During the public participation segment of the meeting, Rev. Linda Gruber, Pastor of St. John’s UCC, will present a five-minute proposal asking the board to either extend the garden’s lease to the long term (30 years) or to donate the land to the Borough or Chester County so it can become a recognized public park. Following Gruber’s proposal, members of the public will be allotted one minute each to voice their opinion to the board on the issue.

“[The board of directors is] looking forward to hearing the proposal,” Donohue said. “I don’t know if it will come to a decision on the 18th.”

“We are very appreciative of HACC to allow us to use this land and our pitch is we want to continue,” Gruber said. “[The garden] is a gift to the community...and the community response has been very positive to us, especially by the non-profit and political sectors.”

Members of those sectors include Carol A. Berger, Executive Director of PACS, and Borough Planner George Martynick. Berger said the fresh produce provided by the garden is extremely beneficial to the needy residents of the area, in terms of both quality and quantity.

“I’m concerned, I’m very concerned,” Berger said. “In terms of fresh produce we can give to people in need, its the best.”

Martynick has worked closely with members of St. John’s in discussing HACC’s proposal for the new public housing, and plans on speaking during the board meeting in support of the garden.

“The garden’s great, because it brings in people from outside the community,” Martynick said. “That’s the kind of community building we look for.”

Karen said...

Dorene Pasekoff sent the following article appeared in the Phoenix.

Thanks, Dorene!


Residents: Keep the garden


By Brian McCarthy,

PHOENIXVILLE — Members and supporters of St. John’s United Church of Christ Organic Community Garden and Labyrinth met with the Chester County housing authority’s Board of Directors Tuesday night to plead their case.

Rev. Linda Gruber, pastor of St. John’s UCC, submitted a proposal to the board during a Tuesday meeting where they asked the county to either extend the garden’s lease on it’s .84 acre property on Fairview Street, which it has occupied for 10 years, for 30 years, or donate it to the for use as a public park.

If the HACC decides not to extend the garden’s lease, it could build public housing on the site, as it is the owner of the property.

HACC Executive Director Tonya Mitchell-Weston, said, during the meeting, that previous public housing plans for the garden’s site “have been scratched.”

Housing on the current site is still a possibility; John G. Bravacos, regional director of the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, said the HACC had received funding to build further public housing. It has until next November to use it before the funding is reallocated.

The garden garnered considerable public support, with gardeners and residents packing the meeting room and outside hallway throughout the meeting. Beforehand, garden supporters met outside King Terrace, handing out stickers reading “Save the Community Garden.” They were hopeful for a positive outcome.

“I absolutely feel there is room for both vegetables and housing,” gardener Alexandra Bricklin said. “The number of housing units is not going to make or

break Phoenixville.”

Gardeners and supporters then joined together in song as “The Veggie Lovers Choir,” singing “All We Want For Christmas is a Community Gardening Lease,” written by Bricklin, who played her guitar for the song.

Board director Donald J.L. Coppedge opened the floor to Gruber during the public-participation segment. Gruber read a segment of the 58-page proposal by the church’s consistory that she had previously submitted.

“The reasonable solution is for [St John’s garden], as it is, where it is, to become a du jure, rather than de facto, public park,” Gruber said.

Gruber argued that HACC and the garden have an opportunity to cooperate, providing both affordable public housing and food for the hungry.

“Our proposal offers community stability for the very persons for whom you exist,” Gruber told the board. “There is place at this site for garden, labyrinth and housing.”

Several local officials voiced their support for the garden, including Borough Councilman Richard Kirkner, D-North, Councilmen-elect Michael Handwerk and Michael Speck, planner George Martynick and Mayor Leo Scoda.

“This council welcomes the opportunity to work with the Housing Authority, County Commissioners, consistory of St. John’s United Church of Christ and all other entities to ensure that the Community Garden remains a community asset for many generations to come,” Kirkner said reading from a letter signed by council members to the board.

Scoda emphasized the garden’s importance to the Phoenixville community.

“We can’t afford to lose it,” Scoda said. “It is green space and we’d to like keep it that way.”

Carol Berger, executive Director of Phoenixville Area Community Services, and Karin Williams, publicist for the Phoenixville Regional Chamber of Commerce, also read from signed letters, from their respective organizations, urging the board to extend the garden’s lease.

“[The garden] helps me, keeps me moving, it’s something I’m interested in, and it’s inspiring,” said Bobby Dean, who was among several gardeners who spoke, and said he operates the largest plot of the garden and donates a majority of his crops to neighbors and local non-profits. “It makes me feel good. We will help to continue to build this community up.”

However, not everyone at the meeting supported the garden’s proposal.

“I’m curious as to why they haven’t looked at alternative sites,” resident Robin Stevens asked. “[The HACC] is providing housing for low-income families.”

Resident Barbara Byrum countered such statements by saying that moving the garden to a different site would be extremely difficult, as the soil would take time to maintain the crops, while the soil as the current site already has the nutrients to help growth.

“God has given us a chance to plant,” Byrum said. “By moving the site, it takes time. [The current site] is already there for us.”

Martynick, who has met with the HACC and members of St. John’s UCC to review prior development plans for public housing on Fairview, urged the board to continue an “open and honest dialogue” between all of the parties involved.

“We’re looking for a sense of cooperation and a certain sense of civility,” Martynick said. He added that HACC should release their plans as soon as become available, so the gardeners can know their “concerns are legitimate.”

Bravacos said he understood the public’s concern, but Chester County needs more affordable public housing.

Coppedge agreed.

“I don’t have to tell you the cost of housing,” Coppedge said. “It’s a sin and a shame in Phoenixville...there’s nothing for the common person.

“If we can bring down the cost of housing, doesn’t that make sense?”

He called himself a passionate gardener with around 20 years of experience and commended the members of the community garden on their work to help the poor.

The members of the board thanked the community for their comments, promising to take time to reach a solution that benefits all parties. Coppedge reiterated that the garden would not be allowed to die.

“Yes, I have mission here to provide affordable, safe, low-income housing,” Coppedge said. “That’s God’s promise to the people, you gotta house ‘em!”

“You gotta feed ‘em, too,” Martynick responded.

The HACC Board of Directors will meet again at King Terrace at 300 High Street on Tuesday, February 27, at 4:30 p.m., to render its decision.