Our free and inclusive Best Ride this coming Monday, July 15th, in Masten Park (369 Best Street, July 15th, 6:30 sharp start), brings an opportunity to see the nearby Pelion Community Garden at 206 Best, a Tour de Farms favorite and one of scores of gardens featured on the second annual East Side Garden Walk taking place on Saturday, July 20th.

Pelion Community Garden’s mission is to train students, teachers, and community members alike in a variety of growing methods and sustainable living. This huge outdoor classroom engages 200+ students with the natural world and enriches their curriculum through hands-on learning opportunities for students in topics of: plants, nutrition, science, sustainable agriculture, eco-literacy, and stewardship.

Pelion has transformed four vacant city lots, across from City Honors School, into a space that is 50% edible, has nine fruit trees, several pollinator buffets that support native bees, a vertical growing space, First Nation planting area, and contains one of the largest rain gardens in the city.

We encourage everyone to visit Pelion before or after our time in Masten Park; learn more below from garden steward Caesandra Sewell.

What inspired the founding of Pelion Community Garden?

It was parents who thought it was a great idea for a school to have its own garden. They started working on it by surveying the community to find out what the community did not want – from the beginning, the vision was to have an outdoor classroom not just for City Honors but for the entire community to learn eco-literacy, garden training, nutrition, sciences, and help people understand stewardship of a neighborhood and community.

What are the greatest challenges to achieving its mission?

Funding – because the Buffalo Public School (BPS) system doesn’t fund school gardens, and a lot of grants that you can apply for only pay for materials, and we’re already what other people consider established, so we’re not a groundbreaking or new garden, we’re a garden that’s mature and wants to fulfill our vision.

Finally this year, we found a sponsor for our worm nursery; one for our honeybee hive; one for our compost system – all things you’d think would be easy to fund, but have taken four-five-six years for some of these projects to get off the ground. Other funding hasn’t materialized. The school will compensate me for time teaching students, but the actual community part has to come from someplace else, so we’re looking for people to sponsor the community education and training component.

Another challenge is adapting to whatever Mother Nature throws at us – in this rainy spring, we caught a lot of fungus on trees, and there’s not a lot you can do other than pay a tree care outfit to treat em, and that can be expensive. Maybe homeowners understand some of the challenges that are inherent in having space like this, but the BPS doesn’t seem to understand that – we’re in a weird situation in which we’re not technically on school property, instead on city-owned land, so we have to come up with funding and find experts ourselves.

What is Pelion’s greatest accomplishment to date?

The fact that the predicted lifespan of a community garden is five years, and we’ve been around for eight and still going strong. A lot of gardens either lose a manager or something happens with the space and they find they can’t do it anymore, so it disappears or has to get decommissioned. We have an increasing number of teachers, subjects, classes – and not just science classes, we’ve got art classes coming out. We’re making connections with other teachers and subjects, figuring out how to enrich the experience of a school curriculum.

How can community members get involved?

We have regularly scheduled volunteer events on the first Saturday and Thursday of every month. All summer, we invite help with watering every morning from 8:30 to 10:30; volunteers are rewarded with fresh herbs, cut flowers, and fruits and vegetables that are ripe whatever week they’re there. We invite people to bring relatives from out of town; office outings; church groups; anyone who wants to help us out in the mornings.

And this Saturday is the second annual East Side Garden Walk from 10am to 3pm, and we’ll  be there earlier doing a brunch for City Honors alumni weekend. We’ll be offering herbs, iced mint tea and tours.