Words by Annalivia Palazzo-Angulo
Northgate Peace and Forgiveness Garden has become my volunteer passion. It was behind my house that Montez Bailey was shot and killed. Many community organizers met and decided a Forgiveness Garden, patterned after a national model by Life Directions, would be the most powerful thing we could do to make sure his name would never be forgotten, and to make sure that all the children and families who visit and work in the garden never forget the reason the garden exists for them.
Pete Nagy, who lives just down the street from the garden, and I coordinate garden events, work parties, building projects, planting and harvesting schedules, and watering. Pete coordinates all the vegetables and raised beds, from seeding in greenhouses and in the beds, building trellises and composter, designing new beds and employing amazing organic and permaculture methods. I coordinate the flowers and ornamental gardens, and all the volunteer work parties with the help of Melissa Gibler at HandsOn Mid-Willamette Valley and Ian Dixon-McDonald and Ingrid Evjen-Elias , MPFS community gardens director and resource coordinator, respectively.
Going out to the garden one or two evenings per week to water, check up, and talk to people is among my most gratifying experiences. Pete is often there—he started a tradition of soup night on Monday, which has now become a potluck of sorts—and volunteers Mark, Hazel, and Crystal take over if Pete is not able to come. Children of all ages come running when
they see me or Pete, begging to plant or water (podemos plantar y poner agua?) and have a snack. The park is full of families—every picnic table is filled, the fountain is filled with delighted children with mothers watching on the sides, the soccer fields are filled with players, the basketball court is buzzing. My favorite evening helpers —Leticia, Norma, and another mother speaking only Spanish — come with children and babies in strollers They check on the watering every night to make sure the veggies always get what they need. And all the while, I am teaching.
My role is to teach all those who visit, including every volunteer group that has come. I tell stories. I teach them why we are here. I teach them how we can change our neighborhoods and cities and schools through civic involvement. I teach the little children how to respect the garden and the park. Along with Pete, we teach the children how to plant seeds and starts and how to water them. I recently noticed that the most beautiful flowers were disappearing. Last night, I found out why. A couple of children, including pre-teens, were carrying beautful flowers home! I decided right then and there that next year, we need a flower picking section. That is our next goal.
We are working towards getting everything signed in Spanish and English so that everyone knows the boundaries and what they are able to do as volunteers. We are going to put up a bulletin board with harvesting information, event dates, and a map of the garden so everyone knows that those funny things coming up between the lupines and columbines are broccolis and cabbages!
Original garden organizers included Pete Nagy, Lee Ann Reed, president of the Northgate Neighborhood Association; Dr. Leo Rasca, director of Life Directions in Salem at the time; Cynthia Lester, Life Directions volunteer and a Horticulture Therapy and garden design expert; Amanda and Elizabeth Hennessey, volunteers and participants of Life Directions; Jordan Blake, former Marion Polk Food Share community gardens coordinator; Alejandro (Alex) Seufert, Northgate Park volunteer laision with the City of Salem Parks department; Norma Sanchez, coordinator of Latinos Unidos Siempre youth group, and me.