Arbor Day 2019. Arbor Day is the last Friday in April, nationwide. Sargent-Downing Gardens has planted a tree on Arbor day for the last four years which means I have planted a tree for the last four years.
Sargent-Downing Garden and Nursery started out with a board of six of us in 2011. I was consulted by Richie Cabo as to how to go about approaching the city to gain access to a garden at University Settlement and to renovate a portion of the gym for our Education Center. The ideas was to provide a family experience of gardening with events and educational opportunities. I had been working with the indigenous since 2010 so I brought folks like Tony Moonhawk of the Ramapough through to put up a Peace Pole and to have Pow Wow on the Hudson.
When I moved to Beacon in 2006, Spirit told me to find the natives. I connected with the indigenous and the Europeans born or had spent the better part of their lives upstate. I uncovered my own cultural heritage of Arawak (South America) and Caribe (Caribbean) in the process. These folks remain my closest allies to this day. Beacon's latest incarnation is young families. For the past twenty - thirty years folks have moved up from the boroughs to raise their families.
At the same time I was studying the Wise Woman Tradition with Susun Weed (www.susunweed.com) and I had worked for Pete so my activist self was born. The Wise Woman Tradition teaches in my opinion, the feminine assertion which is different form the masculine aggression. For me assertion seems to come from an inclusive energy rather than from a rape and pillage aggressive energy. It stands up for the people. I am also a middle class Caribbean woman which comes with a certain sense of entitlement.
University Settlement (www.universitysettlement.org) is the first settlement house in the country providing aid to newly arrived immigrants coming through Ellis Island. They still function in downtown Manhattan on the Lower East Side. Where we proposed to have the garden was University Settlement's upstate sleepaway camp for youth. It's eighty acres and was sold to New York State in 2009 and turned into a State Park. The state gave it to Beacon to manage. Beacon does not have funding to maintain the space so any group with a good idea can use the space and renovate any building they wish to inhabit. In our case, the storage room adjacent to the gym. We held a fundraiser to repair the roof and use it for an Education Center. It is a narrow room that runs the length of the full size gym.
Little did I know when I grew locks on my head at nineteen years old that I would spend my life in Resistance to the Establishment. I just wanted to be free. I am thankful to all the benevolent folks who saw fit to employ me over my now middle aged years. I have definitely had to navigate outside the status quo. I have also foregone children which has provided that freedom, but set me firmly outside Beacon's latest incarnation.
I moved upstate to live the Simple Life and my husband Marc and I have achieved it our way in an affordable apartment with gardens that provide our food and medicine. After the horror of experiencing the 2008 Recession hitting us in 2011, we can confidently say we are in recovery and have well-being on a daily basis.
In 2012 I designed the garden with a spiral and eight curved beds. Vickie Raabin, known on Main St. as Miss Vickie Music had an indigenous month with events throughout Main st. I created a 4' x '6' Dreamcatcher to be hung on the wall outside Bank Square. I though she would be a good choice for President of Sargent-Downing so I nominated her at the end of the year. Interest in Sargent-Downing had begun to dwindle so I thought she would bring renewed interest. University Settlement is on the outskirts of town and many people don't even know it exists. And I believe if a family is interested in growing food they will have a garden in their yard. I use the garden because I live in an apartment. I also decided to make it a communal garden and that may not be of interest. Vickie's nomination resulted in what was left of the board to move on to other projects and it has been Vickie and I ever since. Vickie brought more education programming than we had in our whole existence.
Vickie now does Guerilla Gardening on Main St. and I manage the garden which is two blocks from my apartment. At the height I have had five members which is about the maximum, but it dwindled to one in 2018 and now just me in 2019. I grow plants from seed for myself and Vickie on Main St. I grow enough food to feed my husband and I through Winter which was always the goal. I have had my challenges over the years, but here I am growing again in 2019.
For Arbor Day we have planted Juneberry (Saskatoon Serviceberry) (Amelanchior alnifolia, Rosaceae, Turtle Island) for the past three years. The first year I planted a Redbud, but the deer got to the trunk and killed it. Deer nibble on the young bark for water through Winter. We hadn't fenced it. Lesson learned. I have to order the Juneberry in January if I want one. Another learning curve. Vickie talked me into planting a tree for Arbor Day. A good way to maintain interest in Sargent-Downing. I planted eighty trees in Riverside Park in Manhattan for Mayor Bloomberg's Million Trees initiative so I have experience. I can plant one tree a year. We planted a block off Main St on Henry St and we now have three Juneberries.
Vickie and I are assertive women of color most often dismissed in the Establishment. It is an honor and a privilege to support her as an indigenous woman. we love what we do in support of community in Beacon. Community is the journey we face in the current climate. The Establishment can not fight a well organized community. Community is what has developed the human race all of our existence and it's what will carry us through here. We all get a seat at the table or we will not find our way.
A Tree Committee was formed by the City of Beacon so now we have help. Vickie and I are both members. The Highway Department forgetting that I plant a tree, planted all the rest of the tree wells on Henry St. so I didn't actually get to plant on Arbor Day. I have to wait a week to get another hold dug for my Juneberry. Mark Price at Beacon Recreation has donated the tree over the years. We specked out ten tree wells between Teller and Chestnut on Main and Henry St and we have Kwanzan Cherry (Prunus serrulata 'Kwanzan', Rosaceae, Northern temperate) and Crimson King Maple (Acer platanoides 'Crimson King') planted in all ten. For Arbor Day we had a tent and food donated by Adams (www.adamsfarms.com) and Towne Crier (www.townecrier.com). We planted a Crimson King Maple in front of Oak Vino on Main St. (www.oakvino.com).
Planting a tree on Arbor Day has become very special to me. It's simplicity is incredibly profound. Working with plants is a gift of Spirit that, if you love it, is a gift that keeps on giving.