Claribel Morales remembers going out on the first day to eliminate the bloom in a garden on Mitchell Street.
Morales was enthusiastic. She had a vision. But she also had the wrong tool. She said neighbors and businesses saw her struggle and informed her that she needed a hoe, not a shovel, for the job.
âI realized at that point that this wasn’t going to be a solo effort,â Morales said. âYou need a whole group of people to transform a space. “
âI remember thinking ‘Claribel is a natural community organizer,’â said Bob Heffernan, who owns the lot, recalling his first conversation with Morales. âI support this kind of activism. . . and she proved me right.
Heffernan attempted to bring a community garden to the space before the start of Bumblebee Haven. Owner active in the resettlement of refugees, he arranged for refugee students from elementary school to high school to take the bus from their tutoring location in the Concordia neighborhood on the north side to the garden on the south side.
After about two years, however, the program came to an end as the organization of cohesive transport became too difficult to maintain. For about four years, the idea of ââa garden on the grounds was put on hold until Morales approached Heffernan to ask him to revive the garden.
“It was my neighborhood”
Morales, now the lead garden organizer, lived less than a block from the plot and said she knew she wanted better things for the garden but didn’t know where to start.
âIt was my neighborhood, and I didn’t want it to be the aesthetic,â Morales said. âI am an artist at heart. I want to see things live up to their potential.
Sophia Torrijos, executive director of Friedens Community Ministries, was a neighborhood organizer in 2018. She saw similar potential and started knocking on doors looking for neighborhood volunteers to take ownership of the project.
Torrijos recalled that the project had a profound impact on why she now tries to ‘bundle’ neighborhood projects into a small area rather than spread them out.
âFor me, this project set off a light bulb. Why would I start another project far away when I can regroup, âshe said. âThis way people have the feeling that the neighborhood is changing, because a lot of projects are emerging in a small area. “
After finding a few other enthusiastic residents, the group set out to revitalize the garden.
During the summer of 2018 and the following years, the group achieved an overgrowth; assigned responsibility for garden beds; asked for and got a Community connections grant a new sign; calls on community partners such as Teens grow greens update and expand the selection of flower beds in the garden; and renamed the garden âBumblebee Havenâ.
“It helped me transform myself as a person”
The name of the garden reflects the original desire of gardeners for space to be a place to come and go for pollinators. This includes bumblebees, but has come to include neighbors who briefly contribute to the garden before leaving.
Morales estimates that there are about seven people who are heavily involved in the garden at any given time, and another six or seven who come and go. In addition, neighbors and neighboring businesses have helped by emptying the garbage.
Many neighbors have also fed on produce from the garden, which over the years has included several varieties of tomatoes, pumpkins, squash, herbs and more.
A neighborhood cat, Raffle, also makes regular appearances.
Morales isn’t sure what the next step is for her other than keeping some level of connection with the garden. After all, she didn’t know her neighbors when this project started.
âUsually I’m a very private person, but this project made me step out of my comfort zone and be more assertive to tell people about the project,â Morales said. “It helped me transform myself as a person.”
Building the garden into what it is today also gave Morales and others skills in community organizing.
âMore than just gardening and having fun, Claribel and others here have learned to organize themselves. It’s not always about the result, but the process of building our own leadership skills and our community, âsaid Torrijos.
âIn their own way, the people who work behind the scenes are transforming the neighborhood,â added Morales.