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Growing a garden

Members of the group People Standing Up are taking action in the community by planting and caring for a garden next to Northampton Area Food Bank.

Located between the food bank and Northampton Regional Emergency Medical Services, 15th and Canal streets, the garden has raised beds and fencing, which were completed by Northampton Borough Public Works Department.

“I would like to thank Greg Morey and Rich Ackerman for their help with this project and also borough Manager LeRoy Brobst,” said Kathryn Novogratz, facilitator of the group.

Pat Knopf, Bonnie Almond, Judy Kutzler, Brian Szabo, Jennifer Mehalshick and Samantha Liggio join Novogratz as the group’s core members.

“We make decisions as a group and use each of our unique talents,” Novogratz said.

The land where the garden sits is owned by Northampton Regional EMS, who let the group utilize the space for the garden. Eric and Maria Wescoe made this contribution happen for the group.

The garden was also possible because of a community-based block grant Northampton Borough applied for. Knopf was instrumental in this mission.

“[Knopf] worked with the borough’s grant writer last year, and we were notified last fall that we received the grant,” Novogratz said. “The goal is for the garden to be self-sustaining by residents and food bank recipients.”

According to its mission statement, “People Standing Up is a nonpartisan group of Northampton Borough citizens who work together for positive change in our community through advocacy and action.”

Currently, the group works on one project a year. For future projects, Novogratz said members would like to see trees planted along Main Street, having it return to the past look when years ago trees lined the shopping-area streets.

The origin of People Standing Up began quite organically. Many years ago, Novogratz and a friend sat around a firepit in Novogratz’s backyard and discussed how much they enjoyed living in Northampton. They also thought about betterment changes they would make if they could.

“We talked about ideas for Main Street, new shops, businesses and eateries and a community garden,” Novogratz said. “(We) also (talked) about how there’s a lack of fresh food available to residents who are without transportation or are elderly. The convenience stores carry so much processed food.

“Wouldn’t it be great if we could meet that need?” Novogratz and her friend agreed.

Novogratz did not know which direction was best to take to get started with this. First, she approached her borough council representative, Kutzler, who, Novogratz said, loved the idea (of a community-action group). Both Novogratz and Kutzler told their friends about the idea. Then, Novogratz organized a meeting; besides her, only one person showed up - Knopf.

That was two years ago. Slowly, the group grew.

“We brainstormed ideas that we would like to put into motion. The Northampton Farmers Market needed new management, so Knopf led that project,” Novogratz said. “This was our first project. The goal for the farmers market was to increase vendor participation and customers. According to Buy Fresh Buy Local, a county partnership, we increased customer counts by 20 percent. Vendors went from four to 10,” Novogratz said.

Having the desire to build a garden for the food bank is one thing - designing it is another. Mehalshick, of Northampton, was approached to help with the design of the garden and to select materials, as well as maintaining the garden.

“My professional background includes over 20 years of working as an environmental and biological engineer,” Mehalshick said. “I also volunteered at Cedar Crest College’s arboretum during college under my botany teacher Dr. Halma. That stemmed into further volunteerism for Jordan United Church of Christ’s herb garden and the food bank/soup kitchen garden at Life Church in Nazareth.

“Working with the leaders and volunteers of the Life Church garden to harvest and deliver well over 1,000 pounds of produce last year to local food banks and soup kitchens left a lasting impression considering the prior year was approximately 400 pounds. The hope was to go out and multiply this effort in the community,” Mehalshick said.

Mehalshick became interested in helping with the garden for Northampton Area Food Bank because of community involvement and because the garden provides nutritious meals for the patrons of the food bank.

With the COVID-19 pandemic, the group wanted to at least install fencing, beds to allow for proper drainage and plenty of space between and a shed this year. Happily, the group has gotten those items completed, thanks to volunteers, stores and the borough. Planting has already started.

“We developed a soil mix primarily with mulch and will learn and respond over the next year based on our companion planting and other environmental factors. We are currently heavily documenting all the progress on the garden and we’re happy to start planting this year with the hope that future years will be even more successful and sustainable,” Mehalshick said.

“It’s amazing that we are already getting a response from local people and businesses to donate plants and time or people who stop by just to see what’s happening in their town,” Mehalshick said. “It’s sparking enthusiasm in the community already.”

Novogratz said the group and the community are not only limited to the garden work. Around the borough, there are flower beds that need weeding and care. The food bank’s landscaping also needs weeding.

Thinking of getting involved and wondering what you can do to help? Novogratz said the community has been very generous in donating plants.

Particularly, Change on Main, most recently managed by Szabo, has been helpful with this, and Novogratz added her appreciation to its volunteers. Novogratz also thanked Kenny Hall and Lowe’s in Whitehall Township for their donations to the garden.

Other goods and services People Standing Up needs for the garden include building a water irrigation drip system, more 5-gallon buckets, a sign recognizing the garden and pavers for the seating area.

Members of the group encourage public attendance and participation at Northampton Borough Council and Northampton Borough Planning Commission meetings.

Additionally, the group has its own meetings, which take place 7 p.m. the second Monday of each month at Change on Main, 1830 Main St., Northampton.

The group, which has about 70 members, is mainly for Northampton Borough residents, but “all are welcome as long as they have a desire to contribute to the group in terms of time, ideas, etc.,” Novogratz said.

Group members also communicate via a private Facebook page, People Standing Up.

“Doing this garden [has] helped to decrease political tensions,” Novogratz said. “Gardening is a way to share a common ground.”

To get involved with this project, contact Novogratz at knovogratz@hotmail.com or 610-440-0493.

For more information on Northampton Farmers Market, visit the Facebook page, Northampton Pa Farmers Market. Organizers are always looking for more vendors.

Contributed photoMembers of People Standing Up volunteer their time recently to plant seeds in a new garden built next to Northampton Area Food Bank, 1601 Canal St. To get involved with this project, contact Kathryn Novogratz, facilitator of the group, at knovogratz@hotmail.com or 610-440-0493.