After Friendship Fire, Neighborhood Comes Together Around Community Garden

Aug 5, 2016

Along South Aiken Avenue in Friendship, a sign reading, “Caution … Tomatoes” sits proudly on a utility pole.

It’s referencing the nearby community garden.

“I really wanted to create something where people understand how important it is to connect with nature and also understand how easy it is to grow your own food,” said Octopus Garden founder Kristin Hughes.

The community garden in Friendship hosts plots for 19 local families.
Credit Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

Hughes said she jumped on a chance to buy to the plot of land after an apartment building at 133 South Aiken Avenue caught fire. As she watched firefighters douse the last of the flames, she said she decided to go for it.

“I didn’t know what I was going to do with a burnt out building but … I wanted to do something hopeful for the community and just thought, ‘Why not start a community garden and see if the community embraces something like this?’” Hughes said.

The community does seem to embrace it. The garden is home to 15 raised beds, hosts 19 families and, according to Hughes, there’s a waiting list to participate.

Laverne Stuckey lives down the street from the garden and said, at first, she thought Hughes was a bit crazy with her idea of a creating a community garden, but quickly came around to the idea. Stuckey doesn’t have a plot at the garden, but often visits to help pull weeds. She usually gets some fresh vegetables from Hughes in return.

“Kristin reminds me of my mother,” Stuckey said. Stuckey’s mother had a garden in the Hill District decades ago and used the produce to “feed the neighborhood.”

The garden also features a sculptures including an octopus, which is currently out being repaired, and a sea serpent on which neighborhood kids can climb.

Hughes finds herself in the garden nearly every day keeping an eye on the plants, often watering them from the rain barrels that collect runoff from nearby homes.

“The food is the part that brings us together,” Hughes said. “But I think it’s the interactions that you have with one another when you’re in the space that makes it really rich.”