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Peace Gardens Grow

As spring brings green, a back-to-back Safe & Peaceful Communities grantee illustrates all that can bloom from one planted seed

Each Saturday, 15-20 kids showed up, ready to learn, play and get their hands dirty…

● "Beeology 101" taught them about how important bees are to the economy and ecology

● They imagined having fairies and pirates living in the small gardens they crafted

● During their recycling lessons they made wind chimes from tin cans

They came ready to create.

Located in South Shore, there is a sanctuary, a safe haven for its residents: South Merrill Community Garden. Thanks to a Safe and Peaceful Communities grant, the garden promoted education and healthy eating in summer 2017.

One of the most popular activities was the cooking class taught by chef Tsadakeeyah Emmanuel, co-owner of vegan soul food restaurant Majani, also in South Shore.He'd done demonstrations with and for kids before, so he had a sense what vegan dishes they'd find appealing; Emmanuel chose pizza because the kids were able to get the ingredients—basil, tomatoes, broccoli and peppers—right from garden.

"I think getting the kids involved in the (farm-to-table) process helps, it at least makes them curious," says Emmanuel, whose veganism is rooted in his childhood culture and experiences. "They were more willing to (eat) once they saw it looked like a regular pizza, and that they made it."

Natalie Perkins, who serves as the education coordinator for South Merrill Garden, noted that the core group of children showed up for the community garden classes consistently. "They liked feeling that they could do something in their community where they were safe and could have fun at the same time," she says.

The blossoming of the grantees' 2017 vision came forth on the last day of summer programming, when the two collaborated with the South Merrill Block Club Association to hold a party, something that hadn't been done in 20 years. The gathering featured a bike giveaway and a bike rodeo, where the kids taught each other how to ride. Perkins was touched by the vision, it made her really happy.

The South Merrill garden was also awarded a 2018 Safe and Peaceful Community grant. Based on a survey of what programs the children liked most last year, they're planning to have more cooking classes, and they also intend to implement a Young Growers program, where kids will learn about water irrigation, go to an urban farm and have conversations with chef Emmanuel about the restaurant industry.

Perkins believes that their contributions have led to more positive activity around the garden, reinforcing its place as a safe haven for both parents and kids alike. The parents stayed and did activities with their children, which promoted togetherness and community unity.

"Just because you come from a neighborhood like South Shore doesn't mean everything is bad all the time. You have to know that people in your very own community, and you too, can do something to make a better community; we just illustrated the things our block can do," she says.

This is a story about the Community Safety and Peace strategy of the Partnership for Safe and Peaceful Communities.

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