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A Green Space of Their Own

4 months ago

Bonner and Prendie, how does your garden grow? With help from Stacey and Sean McNicholl, master green thumbs at Monsignor Bonner & Archbishop Prendergast High School’s new community garden.

Stacey and Sean, who together run the sustainable agriculture organization GreenHorn Gardens, are cultivating a plot outside the Delaware County Hospital on Lansdowne and Huey Avenues in Upper Darby, along with help from school volunteers, alumni, and community members.

After spending summer 2018 building the infrastructure and getting crops in the ground, the two grow-pros are now knee-deep in the garden’s first full season of produce. We spoke to them about their experience and what’s next for the project.

How did you get the idea for a community garden?

Stacey: Sean and I have our own urban agriculture company, GreenHorn Gardens, where we build edible gardens in homeowners’ backyards. We both live in Upper Darby and decided to set up a meeting with Pastor David, who is the Executive Director of the Upper Darby Community Outreach Corporation.

The three of us got to talking and someone asked, “Why isn’t there a community garden in our neighborhood?” We couldn’t figure it out. So Pastor David reached out to Bonner & Prendie President Dr. John Cooke, with whom he previously worked on service projects in the community. After that initial meeting, they were both very excited.

Where did you get funding?

Sean: A lot of it was grassroots fundraising with the help of volunteers. Jeremy Sirkin, a Bonner & Prendie alumni, and owner or Executive Tree Care, donated over 80 yards of wood chips for the garden’s base foundation. Then Sal Sciarrino and the team at Go Ape Treeline Adventure donated 30 yards of soil and service hours. Community involvement and partnership were really key.

Stacey: We’ve also begun renting a plot where neighbors, students, and members of a local seniors group can grow their favorite fruits and veggies. That’s helped us sustain funding and build upon the sense of community that this project promotes.

Were there any hiccups along the way?

Sean: There were these big trees near our plot, and when we started, we didn’t think twice about them. We were lucky to have Jeremy our tree expert warn us that they were black walnut trees and their roots produce a chemical called juglone, which is toxic to plants within a 70-ft radius. We had to put a 16-inch wood-chip barrier to protect the crops. It could’ve gone badly. You have to remember, you’re in the hands of Mother Nature out there.

What kinds of produce do you, well… produce?

Stacey: We have several hundred crops in the ground including tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, cucumbers, lettuce, and herbs. We decided to go with the classics based on popular demand.

Sean: Last year we ended up with a combined 1,500 pounds of produce. This year we are expecting much more!

What do you do with the food you produce?

Sean: We split donations between the St. Vincent DePaul Food Pantry located at Blessed Virgin Mary in Darby and the Upper Darby Food Bank. A lot of the Bonner and Prendie students went to elementary and middle school at Blessed Virgin Mary so it’s a great way to give back and hopefully promote the love of gardening early in their lives.

How have Bonner & Prendie students gotten involved in the garden?

Stacey: Early in the season this year, we had Environmental Science classes come regularly to the garden to get hands-on experience tilling the soil, weeding, planting, and laying the mulch base for the community boxes. They were eager to learn to use the tools — so much so that word got around school, and we had more students volunteer over the weekend. That group successfully planted over a hundred plants in one afternoon!

What has the reaction been?

Stacey: A lot of nearby high school students cut through the Bonner & Prendie campus to see our green space. You can see the Bonner & Prendie students have a sense of pride when other public school kids notice it and think it’s cool.