In a compact garden space in the Fairhill section of North Philadelphia, conversation echoed early on a spring Saturday. Inside, young plants were being united with soil, fresh green juxtaposing dark compost. Tending them were gardeners whose own youthful laughter was punctuated by exchanges in Spanish. How far apart should the tomatoes be planted? Do you water the plant or the dirt? It was the beginning of the season for the Youth Advocate Program, part of an international organization that empowers youth affected by violence, and everything started from the ground up: the gandules (pigeon peas) and cilantro, the tomatoes and basil.
Community organizer and garden leader Charito Morales moved through the space, issuing encouragement and instruction. Meanwhile, Charlyn Griffith of Soil Generation, a black- and brownled organization that advocates for local control of land and food, advised the teens with a faint smile. “You have to get down low,” Griffith said. “The plant wants to be in community with you.” The teens knelt closer.