Youth at Workers Eneida Martinez, Chris Dickey, and Chrystal Dickey.
It’s funny how the geography of a place can change so much depending on what you are looking for or what you’ve learned to notice. I can count at least three distinct perspective shifts I’ve had since living in New Haven. One was after riding with the Columbus House Outreach van for the first time. I started meeting homeless and low-income people on the street and noticing where they sought shelter and assistance throughout the city. Another was working for Common Ground in West Rock Park, where I learned to identify trees and salamanders and invasive plants like Japanese Knot Weed (which I started to notice everywhere). These experiences may seem very different, quintessentially urban and wilderness, but in fact both helped me to better see the place where I live, to notice its nooks and crannies and patterns and people, and both helped me to feel more at home, more a part of something.
The last perspective shift came just last week, when I was visiting the various New Haven Land Trust gardens and preserves to plan the work schedule for the Youth at Work crew. Following a Land Trust map of little green dots scattered all over the city, I scanned blocks as I never had before, suddenly noticing the empty lots that had sprung up with vegetables. They were everywhere! Sprawling lots with picnic tables and greenhouses, a few tiny but meticulously kept raised beds behind a senior housing facility, a church garden with potatoes growing in old IKEA bags. And, in just few days of looking, I found people in the gardens, too. Enjoying the shade in a lawn chair, sharing a recipe for mulberry wine, picking garlic scapes. Each person I met welcomed me, and each was eager to share their garden knowledge with the “youth” who were coming to work. (I think the promise of youthful energy and strong backs to pull weeds and spread mulch didn’t hurt!) I’m certain I’ve passed by these seemingly “empty” lots more than once without looking, but I can now see that they are anything but empty. Even would-be dead parcels of land next to a highway be reinvigorated till they are teeming with life, as Long Wharf Preserve amply demonstrates.
My hope for the Land Trust’s Youth at Work crew this summer is that in addition to the professional skills and work experience, they will come to see in these convergences of the urban and natural world a city that is thriving and full of potential, a place that they are a part of. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to meet the people, creatures, and plants that inhabit our neighborhoods, and to think creatively together about how all of these can live safely and peacefully in our community.
Kate Lichti is supervising three Youth at Work employees for the New Haven Land Trust. This summer is the Land Trust's first time participating in the city's program to offer employment and professional skill building to young people ages 14-24.