My Garden Story.The JFK Spirit Garden.”What time is it?…….KNIGHT TIME!”

  My name is Larry Hilton Jr. and I am with the 4th and Inches Foundation. I started my “tour of duty” with the JFK Spirit Garden totally by accident. I was searching for help with the “Adopt a Park” program and stumbled upon the Westside Park Community Garden.
It looked as if someone needed help maintaining the garden so I did a bit of research and connected with Robin Regenburgh.

Inline image……Hi Robin

                           We met and began throwing ideas at each other on how we could take the garden to another level. My idea was to get the high school students involved since it was so close to the garden. I tried to contact the Green Club without much success.

Inline image…The Twins

I emailed them, left messages, visited the school asked other teachers I knew for help but could not get a response. Finally I had my twins,  
who were seniors at the time, pretend they were interested in the Green club (don’t judge me man) and then I got a response. I explained my ideas and was told, “I have heard all of this before and have not seen any real contribution”. So Robin, my children and I set out to build a JFK Spirit Garden.

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We braved the elements, fought off swarms of killer bees, ran from bears…Ok not really… but it was really hot some days. I went to the Paterson DPW asking for help and, after about 10 “I’m still here and I’m not leaving” visits, got them to donate paint. Red and Black paint! Low and behold, a Spirit Garden was born! We again went out painted the fence in school colors and pulled enough weeds to feed a herd of 1,000 longhorn cattle. People started to notice. I went back to the school and said, “How you like me now?” I spoke better English but you get the idea. The Green club did not have an outdoor garden so they welcomed our effort.
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I applied for a small grant and got other donations of material from community members and took that to the Industrial Arts Teacher, I hope I don’t date myself by calling him that, who created picnic benches that we also painted in school colors.

            Inline imageInline image     Inline image                                       We have an 8’ tall knight who guards the garden from the wrath of evil doers overknight (clever huh?). We added steeping stones with JFK Alumni and boy I’m telling you the community of students and the community in general is on board! So take a stroll down “JFK SPIRIT GARDEN LANE”, yes we now have the privilege of having our own street sign,  and see what a community garden is all about!

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The Westside Park Group! Growing Fruits and Vegetables, Growing Community Partnerships and Growing in Impact!!!!

The Westside Park Group consists of three community gardens.  All are located in or around the historic west side of Paterson.  Elysian Fields Community Garden at School #5, The Hillcrest Community Garden and the JFK Spirit Garden are all in partnership to share resources, knowledge and all things “garden”.  Fourteen fruit trees were planted in the JFK garden and six were planted in Elysian Fields.  Those instrumental in achieving this task included Pat O’Connor (Hillcrest Community Garden), Bob Statuto (Paterson DPW), other members of the DPW and the Kennedy Green Club Students.

The “vandal proof” sign holders for the walking path have been received and will be installed within the next month.  Hopefully more funding will be available to “pave” the way with ADA compliant materials enabling those who depend on wheelchairs/walkers to increase their mobility as well as those walking young children in strollers to walk the path.

To date approximately 75% of the project is complete with plans to expand the garden in the near future.  A “Future Knights” garden designed to attract the children in the HeadStart Program across the street is in the works.  Raised garden beds to accommodate wheelchairs are also being planned.

The momentum is incredible. The partnerships are expanding and the neighborhood is well on its way to becoming a “model” of what urban gardening, exercise and cooperation should be!!!!

Westside Park Group, The Best-side Park Group!

The Westside Park Group is expanding and creating new partnerships!  The progress has been great and the efforts shine through.  School Number 5 in Paterson has sixty one raised garden beds for residents to grow their own produce.  “Elysian Fields” has expanded to include fruit trees and on Monday, May 18th, a water collection system will be assembled on the roof of an adjoining building.  The water will be available to the gardeners and surrounding community.  There are plans for a butterfly garden, stage for young performers and benches for those who wish to sit and take in all of the beauty!  Westside Park will be hosting “Step to the Plate” a 19th century baseball game on June 6th, 2015, the same day the new and improved walking path will be christened and the announcement made that the City of Paterson is now a part of First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign.  The Hillcrest Community Garden is incorporating it’s expertise to resurrect its secondary garden in Westside Park as well.  One of our biggest success factors is the teamwork that exists amongst the Fourth and Inches Foundation, The Hillcrest Community Garden Group, The City of Paterson DPW, Historic Commission, Administration, New Jersey Youth Corps, City Green, Paterson Public Schools, School #5 and local residents. It’s truly awe inspiring.  The challenges are mostly those of logistics.  How to get things here and there and organized around everyone’s busy schedules.  The greatest part of the Westside Park Group is that everyone works together to deal with the challenges and work towards our common goals!

We Love Our Westside Park Group!

The Westside Park Group is excited to announce that we’re on Twitter (@WestsideParkGroup) and Instagram as well as Facebook (The Westside Park Group)!  Please tweet us, like us, follow us and share our events and information.

On April 18th we’ll be having a clean-up day at School #5 site of Elysian Fields.  We’ll also be making more raised beds and working with the City of Paterson to “Slam Dunk the Junk” in Pennington Park.  On the 25th of April we’ll be cleaning up the JFK Spirit Garden and the area surrounding it in Westside Park.  All this is being done in preparation for May planting and the June 6th “Step to the Plate” old time baseball game in Westside Park

There will be guided tours of the park and its historic sites, as well as a tour of the Van Houten house (Paterson’s oldest and site of the Athlete’s Hall of Fame) and the gardens. In the future a garden reflective of the 1600’s will be planted!

The great part about the group is that we didn’t have to go out and identify potential partners, they came to us!  Participating in community events and talking about our “vision” seems to be the magnet that brought everyone together.  The “Fourth and Inches Foundation” with Larry Hilton, Jr. initially started the resurrection of the community garden.  After that the DPW, Kennedy High School’s Green Club, the Paterson Historic Commission, New Jersey Youth Corps, City Green, School #5, members of the Paterson City Council and administration all joined in the efforts.

The Westside Park Group is looking forward to a productive season and many more opportunities to get everyone out and moving! As well as enjoying healthy produce, socializing and just enjoying the great outdoors!

Hurry up and Wait!!! (for the snow to melt, the ground to defrost..etc.)

049It seems like such a long time ago that we had the “Harvest Festival” at the JFK Spirit Garden (formerly the Westside Park Community Garden). Even though it was only last October everyone is eagerly waiting for the snow to melt, the ground to defrost and to dust off the garden supplies.  School #5, one of our community partners has already scheduled a “Community Garden Build” for April 18th.  On this date more garden boxes will be built, along with more picnic tables and benches for the garden.  Aptly named Elysian Fields the garden caters to those residents living in the immediate area.  It was so successful that it merited expansion.  This is one of the ways in which we’ll measure improvement.   Mr. Choudury, a key organizer,  has been amazing in reaching out to the growing Bengali community in the area.  We are well on our way to providing the residents with opportunities to socialize, exercise and reap the fruits of their labors.  Between the three community gardens in the area we will be able to provide healthy produce via the farmers market and garden produce sharing.   Of course we won’t be able to measure friendships created, vitamin D absorbed or recipes shared..but we’ll try!

Westside Park Boating (2)Westside Park Boating

When the ground defrosts the permanent walking path markers will be installed. The signs have been reproduced from vintage photographs and postcards from “back in the day” when boating was popular on the Passaic River and the gardens were in all of their glory.  We’re hoping that completion of this will coincide with the scheduled, “Step to the Plate” 19th Century Baseball Game scheduled for June 6th.  Our community partner, the Paterson Historic Commission, is hosting this event to call attention to the historic significance of Westside Park and highlight its many qualities, among them the new and improved walking path with historic signs along the way.

It’s all coming together!