Aleya Fraser is a modern age female farmer who has a vision for helping others learn about how vegetables grow in one of the Eastern Shore’s first community youth gardens in Easton. Four years ago, Aleya, who once had a healthcare career working at Johns Hopkins Hospital, reassessed her life and decided she wanted to use her science background to farm, as her ancestors had in the Midwest and in Trinidad.
She knew that through community engagement, she could also teach lessons about how good food provides nutrition for the body, connecting to her own passion for healthy living. Her journey began with a farming internship in Baltimore County, which evolved into operating a community garden in Baltimore City, before eventually moving to the Eastern Shore to lease three acres of land on the Harriet Tubman Byway in Caroline County. At a small-scale diversified agro-ecological farm based in Preston, Black Dirt Farm, in addition to farming the land, Aleya and her farm partners brought other farmers to the farm to learn agroecology methods. She found she was using her brain to be as collaborative and far reaching as she could be.
Aleya states, “When people put their hands in the soil, it helps to ground them. With what’s going on in the world today, it’s important to have this experience.”
Earlier this year, Aleya was approached by Richard Marks and Amy Haines of the Dock Street Foundation to create and oversee the Jowite Community and Youth Garden on the site that will soon house the new BAAM (Building African American Minds) building on Jowite Street in Easton. Richard and Amy have a vision to help youth and other community members learn about food production and healthy eating, using a community garden as the classroom.
Aleya adds, “Most of the kids are coming to the garden without skills and having been told not to get dirty most of their lives. We are starting at Ground Zero with explaining how vegetables grow and digging in the dirt and they are loving it. They are working the ground, planting seeds, weeding, mulching, hauling stone and harvesting what they have planted.”
So far, the community garden has attracted a Girl Scout Troop from the Chesapeake Multicultural Resource Center (MRC), boys from BAAM and participants from Talbot Mentors, but the space is open to anyone in the community who wants to get involved. Trained adult volunteers are imparting knowledge to the youth, creating a multigenerational component to the garden.
According to Estela Vianey Ramirez, Hispanic Outreach Coordinator for Chesapeake MRC and a Girl Scout Outreach Troop Leader, the garden provides a place of respite for many of the Girl Scouts and their mothers who are participating. She comments, “Currently, we have three girls working on their Bronze Badge for Girl Scouts by working in the community garden. They will be the first Outreach Girl Scout Troop in Easton to achieve this badge.”
Estela notes, “Many of these girls who live in town don’t have outdoor space where they can go to be in nature. The community garden provides that for them, as well as it provides special garden plots for their mothers to plant herbs from their home countries of Honduras and Guatemala. The garden space is a wonderful addition for the Hispanic community here in Easton. They feel very welcome here.”
Aleya has enjoyed having the Girl Scouts and their mothers participating, sharing their knowledge with her. As with all of the groups that are involved, she is connecting community members to where food comes from and information about making better food choices.
She states, “When I bring snacks for the youth, I bring healthy snacks. They are also tasting things from the garden that they have never eaten before and usually instantly love them. When a vegetable is fresh from the garden, it tastes different than a vegetable from the store.”
The youth are also learning about physical labor while working in the garden. Aleya adds, “I knew they were getting it when they commented that being in the garden was better than sitting home playing X-Box.”
Estela adds, “The girls can actually work through their problems through the physical labor they do in the garden. They view it as their relaxation time.”
The produce harvested at the garden will be shared in the community. Chesapeake MRC will harvest their vegetables to provide local food pantries and for their own families’ needs. The garden will also have a farm stand for selling produce to residents in the Port Street area. This will be a project run by youth leaders in the garden, with youth being paid for their work and with the proceeds being used to buy seedlings and supplies for future gardening there.
The Jowite Community and Youth Garden is putting down more soil on a 90 x 25-foot section of the garden to make an area available to community members who want to start their own garden. According to Aleya, although it is late in the summer season, it is not too late for community members to start planning a fall garden. “Participants can pick up gardening tips, learn to eat healthy, and build lasting relationships.”
School, church, scouts and community youth groups are encouraged to participate for community service hours. Community garden volunteer days are every Wednesday from 4 to 7 p.m.
The garden is currently in need of a few items, including picnic tables, seeds and seedlings, time and energy, trellising equipment for tomatoes, squash or cucumbers and large pieces of bamboo (2+ inch diameter), as well as materials for a compost bin, including corrugated fiberglass, 2×4’s, 1 x 6’s, and a trailer wagon for a farm stand. People interested in starting their own garden, volunteering for the community, or donating items should contact Aleya Fraser at 410-989-3536 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.