Two empty lots that mark the gateway to Hartford's Latino community were meant to have a main square, a banquet facility and luxury condos. But those plans died years ago. And now, as WNPR's Jeff Cohen reports, these two big corners of city land are home to a a new community garden.
Martha Page is standing in the rain, as farmers and volunteers screw together a total of 14, 80-foot boxes. What once was vacant land will soon be tomatoes, eggplants, okra, and peppers -- both hot and sweet.
"We are at the corner of Park and Main Street, and the southwest corner of Park and Main. There is a vacant lot on this side, which we're turning into a garden, and..."
Page looks around and sees a farm at the heart of a capital city -- there's a homeless shelter, a city park, some social service agencies, and...
"We have probably the most vibrant commercial area in the city right behind us on Park Street."
It wasn't that long ago that Park Street gained national infamy. On the same block where Page stands, a man was a victim of a hit-and-run that eventually killed him. But now, Page is here with the folks from Hartford Food System and Grow Hartford, trying to create something new.
"It is a very visible site, it's a very visible representation of what you can do with some plants, some soil, and some wood on a vacant lot in Hartford."
"Well, I'm laying down some woven plastic barrier, it's like landscape fabric..."
Rodger Phillips is the farmer in charge of the garden, which is surrounded by a fairly imposing chain link fence. Still, he says community interaction is key.
"One of the really great things about working at this particular site as compared to our other ones which are maybe a little more isolated, is just the enthusiasm of the people who are walking by. What are you guys doing? We're growing vegetables! Alright! You know, it's like you can feel the excitement in people.'
So there's some excitement. And, in a city dotted by vacant land and surface parking lots, Phillips and Page say farming is better than nothing