Environmental Justice Group Engages Local Community with Garden, Mural

Linda Hou '13

Environmental Justice Group Engages
Local Community with Garden, Mural

by Linda Hou '13
4/26/2011

Natali Cortes '13
"[Working with the garden] happens to combine some of the things I'm studying,such as environmental studies and education," says Natali Cortes '13, an EJ member from Berkeley, Calif., "but that's not what I'm thinking about when I'm there."

As the Chester Garden Project takes a break before beginning its third season, the student-initiated community garden is keeping the community engaged with a new mural project. The collaboration between the garden and the Chester Mural Collective plans to create a small mural on the gates of the garden. The group is hoping the project will engage local children even during the  non-gardening season.

"We just wanted to stay engaged with the kids during the colder months so we don't lose the momentum we've built over the past year," says Jesse Marshall '11, a member of Swarthmore Environmental Justice (EJ) and a volunteer at the garden.

EJ members began the garden last year to provide access to fresh produce for the community, and continues to do so through the work of both Swarthmore volunteers and children and adults from the Chester community. The garden, funded by grants from the Clinton Global Initiative and the Swarthmore Foundation, recently became a partner with the Chester Housing Authority.

Other than providing food and perhaps revenue in the future, the project also emphasizes a sense of community.

"[The Chester Garden Project] is opening a line of communication between members of the community [by] showing people that if they work together, they can get things done," says Steve Fischer, executive director of the Chester Housing Authority.  "[The project] shows that neighborliness can be very beneficial to the community."

For the Swarthmore students, working at the garden every week is both a way to apply what they learn in their classes and to be engaged in the greater world.  

"[Working with the garden] happens to combine some of the things I'm studying, such as environmental studies and education," says Natali Cortes '13, an EJ member from Berkeley, Calif., "but that's not what I'm thinking about when I'm there. "I don't feel like we're helping people who are different from us. I feel like we're learning from them."

In addition to working with the Chester Garden Project, the Chester Housing Authority is also involved in several other social action projects begun by Swarthmore students. These include programs such as Bike Works, ChesTech, and the College Advancement Program. The Lang Center also sponsors a number of Chester Community Fellows to work in Chester every year, including two interns at the Chester Housing Authority last summer.