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Carnegie Mellon professor, alumni collaborate to develop garden

One Mile Garden was created by Carnegie Mellon art professor Bob Bingham as a community initiative in York, Ala., in order to address issues such as starvation and unemployment in the area.   (credit: Tommy Hofman/Photo Staff) One Mile Garden was created by Carnegie Mellon art professor Bob Bingham as a community initiative in York, Ala., in order to address issues such as starvation and unemployment in the area. (credit: Tommy Hofman/Photo Staff)

Carnegie Mellon professor of art Bob Bingham, in collaboration with Carnegie Mellon alumni Robin Hewlett and Ally Reeves, has created One Mile Garden, a community initiative in York, Ala. One Mile Garden will provide residents with opportunities for education and better health. The creators will work with locals to establish garden sites and to develop a program for growing healthy food.

One Mile Garden was created in collaboration with the Coleman Center for the Arts in downtown York. Shana Berger, the co-director of the Coleman Center, initially contacted Bingham with the intent of collaborating on a community agriculture program. Berger had viewed Bingham’s website and was impressed by his 2005 “We Grow” project. “We Grow,” based in the Homewood-Brushton neighborhood in Pittsburgh’s East End, is a community-based program that encourages the creative use of vacant land for sustainable agriculture.

Though initially skeptical, Bingham was quickly won over by the prospect of creating a project to address issues such as starvation and unemployment in York. “She enticed me to go to Alabama to do a residency that usually happens throughout the full summer by explaining that it is in one of the poorest counties in the U.S.” Bingham said. “I agreed to propose a project through the STUDIO for Creative Inquiry in Carnegie Mellon’s College of Fine Arts and to spread out a food-growing and -distribution project over two years to allow for research, site visits, community process, growing, and harvesting.”

The project quickly expanded with Bingham’s inclusion of Carnegie Mellon alumni Hewelett and Reves. “I could not imagine doing it alone, so I found two former students who create art about food to collaborate with,” Bingham said.

Bingham, Hewlett, and Reeves spent a week in York in March 2008 with the hopes of gaining an understanding of the layout of the town’s land. During this visit, they met Catherine Shelton, a self-taught organic gardener. Working with her, the artists established the first large community garden at the Coleman Center. As the project grew, satellite gardens were then established at sites throughout York.

“On Oct. 31, 2009 we planted a 54-fruit-tree orchard in Cherokee Park with the Fruit Tree Planting Foundation from California, with the help of 40 volunteers from the Truevine Fellowship Church across the street,” Bingham said. In addition to the Cherokee Park Orchard, other sites include the town’s Eastern Star Baptist Church and West End Junior High School.

One Mile Garden was featured in an exhibition at the Coleman Center gallery from Sept. 25 to Nov. 13, 2009.

Clara Baron-Hyppolite, a sophomore decision science and psychology double major, said, “I just think it’s really inspirational that a member of our faculty would take the Carnegie Mellon value of combining the arts and practicality to develop the greater good of the community.”

Norlex Belma, a junior musical performance major, echoed Baron-Hyppolite’s approval: “I think it’s great that this is happening. There are many people in our own country that lack the basics needed to survive. As students at a major university, it is our duty to use what we know to benefit the greater community.”

One Mile Garden is significant to Bingham as well, representing many of the values that repeat throughout his work. “We succeeded as artists to establish a program for people to engage in growing their own healthy food in one of the poorest counties in the USA. [This process] will now continue on and serve as a model for other communities.”

Bingham says he will visit once a quarter to check in on the gardens. He hopes to continue developing the project, establishing an artful way to assist people in growing larger amounts of food and combining a process of distributing it within the community.