From Vacant Lot to Garden Spot

HOPE Fruit taking Root in Conkey 1.jpg

Imagine: It's a busy Wednesday night at Conkey Corner Park—kids are running around the playground, the Conkey Cruisers are getting ready to ride, and the Foodlink Farm Stand is selling cherries, lettuce, and other fresh produce. Meanwhile, across the street, the Garden of HOPE offers a relaxing spot to read, a tranquil terrace for meditation, and a place to literally stop and smell the flowers.

From a vacant lot, to a vegetable garden, to its newest incarnation as a flower garden, the new Garden of HOPE mirrors Conkey Corner Park expanding the green space in the neighborhood.

On a hot July day, I spoke with Olga Raspaldo, who has lived in the neighborhood for more than 11 years.  As we looked at the lot from her porch, Olga explained to me that it was vacant for many years. Then in 2010, she and other neighbors planted vegetables in the lot, creating the Sofrito Garden. That garden lasted until 2014, when it became difficult for volunteers to maintain. Olga explained that "kids started pulling up the tomatoes."

Another Piece in the Puzzle

Garden of HOPE cat mint planting 6.jpg

Now, the neighbors are at it again, working hard to plant and water a new garden, called the Garden of HOPE. The new name refers to Project HOPE, an initiative of Ibero American Development Corporation (IADC), which focuses on Healthy Outcomes through Participation, Education, and Empowerment in the El Camino community.

Genesee Land Trust and Project HOPE work together, on the annual Northeast Family Fitness 5K, the Harvest Festival, other family activities at Conkey Corner Park and along El Camino, and on the El Camino website.

For Miguel Melendez, Special Projects Director at Project HOPE, the Garden of HOPE is another piece in the puzzle of the intersection of Conkey and Clifford. Miguel says that the garden fits in with the long term vision for the heart of the El Camino neighborhood, which is to "create a park-like atmosphere on all three corners instead of empty vacant lots".

The garden was designed by Project Scion, an initiative of Zaretsky and Associates, which works with neighborhoods to transform vacant lots into community green space. Once completed, the Garden of HOPE will include hills covered in grass and flowers, a hedge labyrinth, a gravel path, and a small stage for summer performances.

The Power of Neighbors

Despite the dry weather, Dorothea Halloway's front lawn was bursting with pink, yellow, and white wildflowers on the day I spoke to her. Dorothea moved to the neighborhood in 2005, and is optimistic about the Garden of HOPE. When asked about the garden, she smiled and said, "I think it will be nice, I love flowers." She added, "I don't mind walking down to help weed."

Residents will be planting flowers all summer long, so make sure to check out Project HOPE's Facebook page and the El Camino website to see pictures of the progress and to get details on upcoming family activities.

Story written by Gena Driscoll-Brantley, a geography major at SUNY Geneseo. Gena worked with Genesee Land Trust and Project HOPE in the summer of 2016 as an Urban Fellow.