Volunteers Observe MLK Day at Bartram’s Garden

Young Hannah is not to be denied her chance to pitch in with other volunteers at the MLK Day clean up activities at the Bartram's Garden Sankofa Farm
Young Hannah is not to be denied her chance to pitch in with other volunteers at the MLK Day clean up activities at the Bartram's Garden Sankofa Farm

About 100 courageous volunteers braved frigid temperatures and icy winds to undertake a range of projects at Bartram’s Garden in observance of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

Although many observers feel that “MLK Day” has now turned in to a generic national service day, Bartram’s Garden took special pains to honor Dr. King. The stalwart work crews started the morning by gathering to watch a powerful video celebrating the life, accomplishments, and profound thoughts of the martyred Black leader. 

A number of the young people expressed the connection they felt between their modest efforts and Dr. King’s final visit to Memphis where he was shot and killed. His purpose for that fateful trip was to support the cause of the underpaid Memphis trash collectors.  

“Dr. King’s whole life seemed to be one of giving, said one steadfast young person, “ indicated Tiffany Lawson,  a former Bartram’s Garden Sankofa Farm intern. “I can say we learned the importance of giving. We were like a family here, and it is like a reunion to come back and renew our connection with the soil and with other dedicated volunteers.” 

After the time of reflection and an opportunity for hot drinks and pastries, the visitors pitched in to beautify Bartram’s walking trails down by the Schuylkill River and to spruce up the dormant flower and vegetable beds at the Sankofa Community Farm at the southern end of the 45-acre historic site. 

Under the energetic leadership of Ty Holmberg, co-director at the farm with Chris Bolden-Newsome, dozens of workers busied themselves with cleaning off the fallow flower and vegetable planting areas and cutting back brush and weeds. Others hefting the heavy red and yellow wheelbarrows full of mulch and rich brown compost to spread on the farm and community garden plots to prepare them for spring cultivation. “We’re really grateful for the terrific turnout, and we accomplished a lot,” commented Holmberg.

It’s serious but enjoyable work at the MLK Day work-fest at Bartram’s Garden, filling heavy wheelbarrows with mulch and compost to ready the community garden beds for spring planting. 

The six-year-old Sankofa farm takes its name from the language of the Akan People of West Africa and implies returning to the values of African farming traditions. At Bartram’s farm, it is applied to the kind of youth development, community health, and food independence activities that are carried on there – almost year-round. More than 50 local families subscribe to small, fertile garden plots and grow their own vegetables and flowers. 20 or so youth from the community act as paid interns and tend the larger farm area. They sell their produce at a stand on Lindbergh Blvd. during the summer and fall, and also at the Clark Park Farmers Market on Saturdays – over 15,000 pounds of food each year.

The covered greenhouse grows and distributes over 80,000 vegetable transplants to over 130 farms and gardens around Philadelphia through the Pennsylvania Horticultural City Harvest Program. Bartram’s Garden also hosts more than 1,500 volunteers annually.

The collective memory of Dr. King and his sacrifices called to mind the statement on the Bartram’s website, “At the farm, we are committed to living the praxis of Sankofa, a constant “remembering” as we move forward with our lives as individuals, nourished by active engagement of our people’s shared narratives in America…The farm has been guided by the idea of Sankofa since its inception and we work daily to bring this consciousness in our Southwest Philadelphia community.”

Bartram’s Garden is located at 54th Street and Lindbergh Blvd. On the calendar for the next few weeks are courses on how to grow and make one’s own urban medicine cabinet of herbal remedies and volunteer opportunities to clean seeds for Bartram’s city-wide distribution.

More information about on-going events and programs, membership and charitable donations, and how to make contact can be obtained by phoning 215-724-5281 or from its website, www.bartramsgarden.org

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