In 2023, the Reading Climate Corps returned to Angelica Creek Park to pick up where the inaugural cohort left off. After removing woody tangles of invasive honeysuckle vines, Reading Climate Corps members helped plant young, native trees – black gum and black oak – to repopulate the newly created clearing.
But the Reading Climate Corps didn’t stop with Angelica Creek Park. This year, their environmental stewardship efforts branched out into Berks Nature’s network of community gardens scattered through the City of Reading.
Starting in August, Eli Perez and five other Climate Corps members made a weekly habit of working in the gardens. And just in time too; the fall season offers many challenges as gardeners prepare for their final harvests. For Berks Nature’s Community Garden Manager, Rachel Baltuch Dombroski, the amount of garden maintenance required at this point in the season is too great to accomplish alone.
Volunteers install fencing for a new Nature Play Area at the Opportunity House Community Garden.
Thankfully, this is where the Reading Climate Corps stepped in.
Each week, members of the Reading Climate Corps visited one of Berks Nature’s ten community gardens. Every garden had its own unique list of needs, requiring different kinds of attention and care. Some gardens had grown crowded with weeds and invasive plants, which the Climate Corps members removed. Others needed new topsoil or mulch and pathways added to their beds.
The varied work was welcomed by Eli and their fellow Climate Corps members. “I believe this partnership really gave the corps members an opportunity to learn and apply new hard skills with a refreshing change of view by going to different sites on a weekly basis,” said Eli, reflecting upon their time in Berks Nature’s community gardens.
In this way, the Reading Climate Corps provided an instrumental service to Reading’s community of gardeners.
“These individuals in the Reading Climate Corps are exactly the wonderful, motivated, energetic, hard-working people who are so needed in our fight for environmental justice, locally and nationally,” said Rachel, “Their work has enabled the community gardeners to have a better, less weedy, more cared-for shared space for growing their food and connecting with nature.”
Beyond the Climate Corps, the Reading community has mobilized to embrace urban gardening. In 2022, Rachel helped lay the groundwork for the Greater Reading Urban Agriculture Group, a network that began meeting officially in January 2023. Today, the group consists of over 60 individuals, representing private, non-profit, and governmental institutions hailing from Reading, Berks County, and beyond.
By meeting, sharing information and resources, and forging new bonds, the group aims to collaboratively advance mutually beneficial missions in food security and access, sustainable urban agriculture and greening, public educational programming, and more. Current projects of the group include identifying, categorizing, and mapping the active and potential green spaces in the Greater Reading Area and creating a shared tools and resources inventory list.
It was an exciting and ambitious year for Berks Nature's Community Gardens!
- Across all our gardens in Reading, including those we co-manage at RHA apartments and Opportunity House, over 75 gardeners leased and grew produce (and some beautiful flowers!) in 200 total plots.
- Several gardens received new raised beds this year, adding 20 overall!
- Berks Nature, in partnership with Opportunity House, VOiCEup Berks, and Penn State Berks Engineering Ahead Program, and with the generosity of Pro Max Fence Systems’ expertise, time, and materials, are in the process of installing a brand-new nature playscape in the green space at Opportunity House, giving their Learning Center students ages 2-13 access to a natural environment intended for free play in nature and educator-guided activities.