Community Blooms in Rochester
A vacant lot is now a flower farm and park designed to help young people gain on job training while bringing nature to the community.
On the corner of Joseph Ave. and Langham St. in Rochester, NY, an empty lot has stood as a reminder of the once bustling Joseph Avenue neighborhood’s decline. This summer, that lot will be filled with buzzing bees, native plants, a garden path and thousands of flowers.
As in many post-industrial cities, some Rochester neighborhoods have been hurt by factors including declines in employment opportunities, lack of investment, and racial injustice. One result is that of hundreds of vacant lots fragment economically distressed neighborhoods like Joseph Avenue.
Thanks to an innovative community conservation project led by The Nature Conservancy, Green Visions, Joseph Avenue Business Association and the City of Rochester, one of these vacant lots is now the site of Community Blooms—a flower farm and community park designed to help young people gain on job training while offering a place where the community can enjoy nature’s many benefits.
The poor existing soil is being tilled and amended with compost, a water line is getting installed, and seeds of sunflowers, zinnias, cosmos and snapdragons will soon be pressed into the soil. But the project has been germinating for almost two years.
With help from Nature Conservancy trustee Emanuel Carter, a professor at State University of New York’s College of Environmental Science and Forestry, and his class of landscape architect students, a series of community conversations lay the groundwork for the project taking root today.
“We interviewed residents, faith leaders, business owners and city officials and heard loud and clear that some of the neighborhood’s urgent needs were public safety and workforce development,” says Darran Crabtree, a Senior Conservation Strategy Advisor for The Nature Conservancy. Hearing these priorities, the Conservancy reached out to Green Visions, a workforce development and neighborhood beautification program with a successful track record of vacant lot re-use that engages young people at the critical post-high-school point of life.
Green Visions has hired three young members of the Joseph Ave Community who will gain job work skills in management, retail and wholesale this over the summer as they grow and market flowers that will be sold at grocery stores and large venues like the Rochester Public Market. They will also gain ecological management experience as they work with Conservancy staff to enrich the space with both commercial cultivars and native plantings that support birds and pollinators while helping to absorb stormwater.
“The Nature Conservancy works to protect the lands and waters we all depend on, and that includes the green spaces within our cities,” says Jim Howe, The Nature Conservancy’s Central and Western NY chapter director. “We need approaches to urban conservation that are inclusive and equitable and make our cities more resilient to the impacts of climate change. Work like this could help inform how Rochester invests in thousands of city-owned lots in the upcoming decade.”