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From left to right, Gabbie's Garden members Michelle Greenfield, MajaLisa FritzHuspen, and Shira Kamm pose. Credit Jane Carroll
article by Jane Carroll
A small but thriving green space brightens a stretch of Chew Avenue near East Mt. Airy Avenue. Tucked into a colorful border of yellow and pink yarrow, hollyhocks, and sunflowers, a sign declares that this neighborhood haven, called “Gabbie’s Garden,” is part of the East Mt. Airy Community Garden Network.
The “Network” refers to a group of about 35 people individuals or families who tend plots at Gabbie’s Garden as well as a smaller garden a few blocks away called Werner’s Garden. Both properties are owned by local businessman David Fellner—the owner of the Sedgwick Theater—and the gardens are named for his parents.
The lots were weedy and often littered with trash before the gardens got going.
“Now there are lots of nice people growing things,” says Gabbie’s Garden member Shira Kamm. “It’s a mutually beneficial arrangement.”
A house owned by Fellner sits adjacent to Gabbie’s Garden, and he supplies water for both gardens and pays for mowing.
A preschool teacher at the Germantown Jewish Center, Kamm had arrived by bicycle—carrying a carefully balanced watermelon and lemonade to share with fellow gardeners—for a recent garden work party. She said the gardeners have all become “buddies.”
“We water each other’s plots, share food, and have occasional cookouts,” Kamm said.
Gabbie’s Garden was created in 2009 by Brian Ames and Marin Richeson. In addition to their individual garden beds, the group collectively tends a large central bed brimming with collards and kale, which they donate to the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society’s City Harvest project. In return, PHS supplies seeds, seedlings, and salt hay for mulch. (For the record, I work for PHS.)
The group has also received small grants from Weavers Way Community Programs, which they used to purchase topsoil, fencing, and other necessities. But this is very much a do-it-yourself operation.
“We are big recyclers,” said Kamm. “Just about everything in the garden is re-purposed.”
Kamm built her own raised bed with boards from a discarded shelving unit she found on the street. Topsoil, mulch, and plants often come courtesy of Ames or fellow member Bill Shick and their landscaping and urban farming connections. Folks mostly bring their own tools and supplies, but Kamm said they would eventually like to purchase a shed.
The garden group has an informal structure that keeps things humming along. The current coordinator, Brandi Kirksey, just had a baby, so Kamm and fellow gardener Mimi Singh are temporarily “holding down the fort.”
A Wiki site and email list ensure that everyone stays informed about garden happenings and news. Each individual or family pays $15 per year for membership (sorry—there are no current openings) and signs an agreement to garden organically, be respectful of each other and attend work parties, which is when they tackle communal tasks such as weeding the pathways or exterior plantings, removing ivy or turning the compost pile.
In the garden, each separate plot is different from the next. Kamm’s own plot overflows with six varieties of heirloom tomatoes, as well as potatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, chard, and lettuce. I asked her if it wasn’t a little bit over the top for one person.
“Oh, I leave bags of tomatoes at my friends’ doors all summer,” she said. “They always know who it’s from.”