Neglected Allison Hill garden will grow food and nurture neighborhood again, organizers hope

Harrisburg residents will get a preview Friday of a soon-to-be restored garden in the Allison Hill neighborhood.

“Our effort is to restore the entire area and return the whole thing into a functional use,” said Chris Nafe, the city’s sustainability coordinator. “We’re working on gathering resources to make it happen.”

Members of the Greenhouse Working Group have been spending hours preparing the land, raising funds, and educating nearby neighbors on their efforts to bring back the urban garden and eventually a new greenhouse to provide an option for healthy living in the city.

A virtual town hall on the “Greenhouse Transformation Project” is scheduled at noon Friday. It will be streamed to the city’s Facebook page, where residents’ input is welcomed. Some parts of the garden’s plans will start to take shape on Friday.

Planners said there’s an urgency to grow food now. The plot of land has sat near Reservoir Park off Whitehall Street in the city unused for two decades.

“If there’s one thing that COVID-19 taught us, it’s that we don’t eat healthy in Harrisburg,” said Rafiyqa Muhammad, a member of the group.

Muhammad spearheaded the project. She’s been a member of the city’s Environmental Advisory Council and is the owner of Sustainable Human Environment.

“In 2012, I and small groups of people would come up here to clean it up,” she said. “I had some farmers come up here to test the soil [and also] the USDA do some soil science testing, just to see what the ground was like.”

Through tilling and sampling, she said she feels confident that the garden will not only grow vegetables such as lettuce, cauliflower, and peppers but also produce flowers that are indigenous to the area.

Her vision of it includes garden beds, compost beds, raised garden beds, and more that can regenerate large amounts of fresh vegetables to help feed a good portion of the estimated 10,000 people who live in the Allison Hill area.

An existing greenhouse remains sitting on the land, but Muhammed said she’s not yet specifically seeking funds to build a new one.

“The goal is to make sure this is totally off the grid,” she said. “It shouldn’t be a burden to the city or the residents. Everything should be self-sustaining once it’s done.”

On Tuesday, while walking around the location, Nafe received news that the project received another $25,000 from the Whitt Family Foundation. So far, about $80,000 in cash has been raised toward the garden part of the project.

Around $100,000 has been given to help maintain aspects of the greenhouse for now. But, at least twice that amount is going to have to be raised to build a new greenhouse. Private investors have also given Muhammad the nod but are watching as the project develops.

“We’re looking at the future, the use of the greenhouse building, and restoration,” Nafe said. “Whatever money received so far, though, is going to be focused on the garden beds, and teaching classes to residents

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