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Community Garden thrives in Cherry Hill

Ginger Williams | 8/1/2014, 6 a.m.
Just at the southernmost point of Baltimore City is the community of Cherry Hill. The area is home to mostly ...
The Cherry Hill Urban Garden is located on a nearly two-acre lot just off Cherry Hill Road. The vegitables are grown without the use of pesticides or chemicals. Cherry Hill is a “fresh food desert” without a supermarket in the community. The mission of urban garden is to bring food to the desert and to teach the residents how to eat healthily. (Left to right) Volunteers Juanita Ewell, Tiasha Shaw, David Stockett and Latrice Lawson. The produce is sold on Saturdays and any money made is reinvested into the garden. GInger Williams

— Just at the southernmost point of Baltimore City is the community of Cherry Hill. The area is home to mostly low-income families, many headed by single parents.

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Juanita Ewell is an integral part of the success of the Cherry Hill Urban Garden. For the past four years, Ewell and a small team have worked diligently in the garden encouraging its growth.

After World War II, many veterans moved to this segregated community, to homes built especially for returning veterans. There were private homes, apartments and public housing units.

The saving grace of the community was its self-containment: grocery stores, doctors’ offices, schools, recreation centers, a movie theater, swimming pools and churches— all within walking distance from any home in the area.

Generations of families lived nearby and teachers sometimes taught the children of some of the parents. Cherry Hill was a very close-knit community.

Now, it’s not so much the case. Older families have moved away, giving way to young parents. There is a lack of recreational facilities in the area and unemployment in the area is among the highest in the city.

The Cherry Hill Community Development Corp. has worked tirelessly to tackle and combat the problems— one by one— with one obvious success: The Cherry Hill Urban Garden.

According to long-time resident, Juanita Ewell, “Cherry Hill has become a ‘fresh food’ desert. There are at least six carryouts in the area, but no supermarket. One can buy chicken boxes, Chinese food, submarine sandwiches, but not fresh food.”

This glut of fast-food establishments provides “sustenance” of sorts.

It’s sort of a catch-22, Ewell continued. “Many of the residents get monthly checks and patronize these stores. The families eat what they can, because they can’t get to a market to buy fresh food,” she said.

This wasn’t always the case. There was always a supermarket in the shopping center. At one time, Catholic Charities bought into the shopping center and encouraged a supermarket to move there. That market has been gone for years. In its place— a dollar store.

“Many of the residents don’t drive and the nearest supermarket is two miles away. So, for those who want, they either have to catch public transportation or pay someone to take them to the market and bring them back. A hardship when you’re living on a fixed income,” Ewell said.

Ewell is a retired state employee who has always planted food for her family in her own back yard. So, the idea of starting a vegetable garden to benefit the community wasn’t much of a stretch.

“I found after I retired that I wanted to contribute to the community,” Ewell said. “So, the community organization took on the problems they deemed the most critical; housing, fresh food and recreation. The idea of a community garden came out of those meetings.”

The next step was to find a place for the garden in an area that would be accessible to all the residents.

It was decided that a nearly two-acre site off Cherry Hill Road would be the ideal place to build the garden. The lot was already vacant; public housing units had been demolished some 15 years earlier. In the place of these units was an overgrown field covered with brush, trees and trash.