Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Las Monjas Community Garden

Our community garden series travels to San Juan, Puerto Rico today. This post was originally published on the Enterprise Community Partners blog, @The Horizon.There were some minor edits to this reposting. Learn about the Enterprise Rose Architectural Fellows Program here

By Juan Calaf, Enterprise
Rose Architectural Fellow
Earlier this year ENLACE, a community-based organization in San Juan, Puerto Rico created an organic community garden with the residents of Las Monjas neighborhood. Las Monjas is one of the most densely populated and poorest neighborhoods in Puerto Rico. Las Monjas Community Garden is the only organic community garden in the entire Caño Martin Peña neighborhood comprised of around 27,000 residents. Initially, the residents volunteered their time to clean what was once a vacant neglected lot where illegal dumping occurred. After several months of clean-up and building raised beds the community has now a vibrant and diverse garden producing mostly organic vegetables, lettuces and spices (ie. pumpkin, arugula, basil) for the residents to eat and in some cases to sell at community events.

Last month a community garden organizer from ENLACE, Roberto, asked me if I would help them to plan for the future expansion of the garden, given that they now have a new parcel to the eastern side and to the north of the garden. ENLACE got some funding from the Ford Foundation to build out some structures necessary for the garden to be more self-sustaining. Since then, I have participated in various meetings with the community leaders and garden organizers to come up with a list of priorities and to create a more holistic design for the garden. The group wants to include an outdoor classroom, a larger composting area, more garden beds and a nursery garden area. There are also some improvements planned for the existing fencing around the garden as well as a new gate to provide better access into the garden.

Juan garden1
Las Monjas Community Garden
I have been helping with the schematic designs for the second phase of the garden’s design. This phase will also include a rain-water collection cistern connected to a roof, shading devices to minimize wilting from the extreme summer heat and a mechanical composting facility all to make the garden more self-sustaining.
Community gardens like Las Monjas and others around the country serve two vital functions for the community. First, they support food independence by teaching organic gardening practices to youth and families to have their own low-cost alternative to eating local produce. Second, they foster better relationships between neighbors by encouraging strong collaboration and participation which ultimately has a positive overall impact in the neighborhood.
Community Garden Design Meeting Sketches
Want to start a community garden in your neighborhood? Click here