By LINDA M. LINONIS
The Bennington Block Watch Community Garden produces fruit and vegetables for the neighborhood to share.
It’s also the catalyst behind an informal “know your neighbor” campaign promoted by Sybil West, block watch president, and Adele Luckey, block watch founder.
“It’s the idea of taking back our front porches, where people used to sit and talk,” West said. “The garden is a way to socialize with people. It’s about being aware of who your neighbors are and knowing who belongs in the neighborhood.”
“When you have a close-knit neighborhood of people who watch out for each other, it’s safer,” Luckey said. The watch is based on Bennington but West said residents of surrounding streets have attended meetings seeking information or resolution of a problem.
The block watch garden, which sits on three lots on the East Side, “blends right into the neighborhood,” West said. It’s on the corner of Bennington and Kimmel. The watch has permission from lot owners — a woman in West Virginia, Heavenly Place Church of God in Christ and the city — to use the land for a garden.
Ironically, the block watch in the quiet, stable neighborhood of tidy homes owes its existence to a crime. “My car was stolen and I got mad,” Luckey said. Starting a block watch so that people would watch out for one another was the result. Luckey said the watch began in the 1990s.
Presidents have been Luckey, West and Ollie Jones, a 97-year-old neighborhood resident.
The block watch voted to cultivate a garden three years ago. West thinks it will be a permanent fixture because it is so popular.
Luckey wrote a grant and the block watch received $3,000 from the Raymond J. Wean Foundation. The funds went to clear the land, rototill, buy some equipment, plants, seeds and other related items.
West credited Luckey with the “vision” of what could be. “She made the dream become a reality,” West said of her neighbor and fellow gardener. Luckey’s dream hasn’t stopped with the garden; she plans to clear and weed a treed area on the property, where benches can be placed. “It will be park-like,” Luckey said.
The enthusiasm for the project isn’t confined to Bennington. The women said Chester Glardy, who lives on Sunshine, is a regular garden worker.
The beauty of the garden is that you don’t have to work in it to reap the rewards. The women said health and physical limitations prevent some residents from gardening. People do what they can, the women said, adding the produce is shared among neighbors.
“It’s hard work,” West said. The Bennington gardeners are novices; about eight to 10 people pitch in at the garden. They’re producing a crop that includes cabbage, kale, greens, peppers, okra, cucumbers, squash, string beans, tomatoes, cauliflower and corn. They’ve also grown watermelons and pumpkins.
“But you don’t have to work in the garden to benefit from it,” West said. “Anyone can take something. We just ask they don’t tear things up.”
Luckey said there’s something magical about watching a seed grow from a small thing into a tomato or cabbage. “It’s a miracle,” she said.
“For me, there’s no excuse not to have fresh food when you can grow it,” West said.
The women agreed that gardening also is educational; they’re continually learning. “God gets the credit; it’s all because of Him,” Luckey said. “It’s therapeutic,” she said, adding gardeners feel close to nature and God.