New City Garden Provides Food and Jobs

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

PROVIDENCE — A community garden can be more than a neighborhood lot for growing tomatoes. In the case of a new public garden in Federal Hill, a revamped parking lot now serves as a classroom and job-training center.

Ricardo Tillman lives near the garden, and through the guidance of DownCity Design's Urban Collaborative, helped remove sheets of asphalt, install new fences and pour concrete. After gaining this experience, Tillman started a landscaping company. "I picked up a lot of skills from the program that I can use in my own business," he said.

Tillman was one of a dozen interns and students to participate in the design and construction of the multifunctional garden. Several students from the MET Community School participated in the project, many using everyday tools for the first time.

"I realized that this is just not a random building made to look nice," said Kelly Kwasniewska, a sophomore at the MET School. She was initially bored by the project and admitted she didn't know the difference between a nail and a screw. But when she saw the other students building creative and functional structures with wood from discarded pallets and using large chucks of cement for chairs, she embraced the project, even showing up on weekends to participate.

"I cannot be happier. I never would have thought I'd learn so much," Kwasniewska said.

She and other participants liked seeing neighborhood kids gather at the garden, many meeting for the first time. 

"We like to create amazing spaces so people can feel good about where they live," said Gary Clotier, executive director of Groundwork Providence, during a July 9 unveiling of the garden and classroom.

The project also combined the resources and expertise of local organizations and businesses, such as Southside Community Land Trust, Rhode Island for Community and Justice, the Steel Yard, Trees 2020, Arnold Lumber and Whole Foods Market. 

The community space has a learning center for seminars, space for tool storage and, of course, many native and exotic plants, such as peach trees. In addition to learning about gardening and helping build the learning center, the students and interns helped construct rain gardens, raised flower beds and a drainage swale. 

Ultimately, the collaboration is about getting people to take interest in their environemnt. "This is what I believe is education," said Dennis Littky, co-founder of the MET Center. "You don't have to make (students) come in on the weekends. They want to come in on weekends."