Experiencing the Natural World in a Concrete Jungle

With sparkling enthusiasm, Project Manager Amanda Jimenez, or "Mendy Jim" as she's called, meets the challenges of starting a community garden from the ground up in the midst of the Lehigh Valley in Pennsylvania. Check out the mission statement of Afros in Nature:

Our mission is to plant seeds of safety in natural environments so that individuals of color -- regardless of their gender identity, sexual orientation, creed, or economic status -- can create self-sustaining lifestyles with love, support, and community. 

This amazing organization holds events like camping trips, bike rides, paddle boarding, trash cleanup days, birding adventures and other outdoor experiences in natural environments. Their intention is to provide outdoor recreational opportunities for fellow Black, Indigenous & People of Color to enjoy the benefits of the outdoors and nature as they strive to plant seeds of safety and inclusivity in outdoor spaces.

Community Gardening

Within what she describes as a concrete jungle, a piece of property that stretches the width of a city lot, this group is transforming the property into open garden space with a walkthrough and education center. Afros in Nature provides plants, soil, seeds and gardening wisdom for those who want to garden, whether in the community space or at their own homes. 

With help from various funding sources, the community garden now has 3 large raised beds with trellises in between. Before this year's frost arrived, they installed 45 edible plants, primarily natives. One of this group's major goals has been restoring the existing land with native plantings as a way to build the quality of the soil and level the space.

Mendy's personal enthusiasm for this garden developed from working on vegetable farms and learning from farmers. She's also passionate about herbs and medicinals, and she has an eagerness to do whatever she can to help restore the planet. 

The group's garden project is seeing increasing community engagement and more volunteers. Local businesses have offered help and, so far, the garden has primarily relied on crowd funding. Plant sales were organized last year from only one of their locations, but this year they will be held both in Allentown and Bethlehem. Up until now, vegetable plants for the sales have been donated from farmer friends, and have been offered to the community either for free or as a donation to Afros in Nature. 

The Future Awaits

This year the garden area is still under construction with the exception of the raised beds, in which squirrels have made their winter homes. High-top hoops over the raised beds are still needing plastic. The main frame of a greenhouse has been donated to the garden, so there's an expectation of having a greenhouse and two hoop houses this spring! 

Afros Homestead & Cafe

Another goal of Afros in Nature is to create a kitchen space inside the existing building, with a focus on offering teaching opportunities to the community that would include growing and preserving fresh food. Afros Homestead & Cafe plans to make its future kitchen available to the community as a way to provide direct access to fresh food and a place to prepare it. 

Mendy says the "other half of her brain," and project partner Nia, also an Afros board member, are focused on how to teach school kids about gardening. She sees their interest as they pass the garden on their way to school, but it's a struggle to obtain the different clearances required to work direct with schools.

The founder of Afros in Nature, Melanie Lino, has said, "We are beings of the Earth and we find a sense of healing and clarity when connecting with it." We couldn't agree more.

If you'd like to donate to Afros in Nature, click here.

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Every year, Gardening Know How awards $1,000 to 20 different, hand-picked garden projects across the United States and Canada. If your community or school garden has a growing, unmet need for more soil, seeds, fertilizers, building materials, or even just help getting the word out about your program, we're ready and willing to help you meet those needs. As community gardens and school gardening programs spring up all over, we're happy to do our part to help.

Caroline Bloomfield
Manager of Marketing Communications

Caroline Bloomfield is Manager of Marketing Communications at Gardening Know How since 2019. A northwest native, she has resided and gardened in multiple zones in the U.S. and is currently at home in Eugene, Oregon. Writing and editing for various publications since 1998, her BA in American Studies from Southern Maine University includes an emphasis in English. She was raised in California by avid gardeners and continues to enjoy the natural world with an appreciation for the concepts of sustainability and organic care for the planet.