Arborial Alliance

Providence neighbors rolling up their sleeves to plant trees in Locust Grove cemetery.

Locust Grove Cemetery on Elmwood Avenue in Providence dates back to 1848. Yet until recently, this historic burial ground now owned by the city’s Parks Department was neglected, a dumping ground for garbage and a high crime area. It called out for improvement.

Another tree goes in the ground to provide food, clean the air, and beautify the park.

Enter the Urban Agriculture Task Force, a coalition of policy makers, farmers, gardeners, and advocates for a healthy local food system in Providence coordinated by Southside Community Land Trust. The vision of the UATF’s edible landscaping committee includes planting fruit-bearing trees, berry bushes, and other edible plants in public spaces, making their harvest available for free to families in the city. Locust Grove’s existing landscape consisted of only a few trees, and so the committee adopted the park as the site for the city’s first public orchard.

Ron Henderson, a member of the Task Force and an architect with L+A Landscape Architecture, reviewed the history of the park. Kanseese Xiong, then a URI student—and daughter of Urban Edge farmers George and Chang Xiong—conducted outreach among area residents as part of a summer urban agriculture internship with the Community Land Trust. Ron’s landscape design for a small pear and locust tree orchard drew on neighborhood input, his site research, and input from Bob McMahon and Doug Still with the Providence Parks Department.

Even kids helped out with the project.

Angela Aurelio, a Locust Grove neighbor, stepped forward and has taken on a long-term leadership role with the orchard. A broad coalition of interested parties has worked on this project, including neighbors, Urban Agriculture Task Force members and Southside Community Land Trust, the Rhode Island Indian Council (whose offices are in Algonquin House nearby on Broad St.), City Forester Doug Still, Community Works Rhode Island, and the Providence Neighborhood Planting Program. The Parks Department constructed a fence around the property with funds secured by Councilman Miguel Luna (D-Ward 9), and have brought water in barrels throughout the orchard’s first season last year. Angela coordinated a team of neighbors who, bucket by bucket, watered the trees each week.

Community Land Trust executive director Katherine Brown, right, with Susan Rezendes from the African Alliance, one of many partnerships integral to the project.

This spring, these friends of Locust Grove cemetery arranged for a second wave of trees to be planted. The African Alliance of Rhode Island came on board with a grant from the Urban and Community Forestry Program of the Rhode Island Resource Conservation and Development Area Council, and more volunteers joined in, including members of Trees 2020 and Groundwork Providence and congregants from St. Paul’s Lutheran Church on Elmwood Avenue. In May, they planted several new nut and shade trees in the cemetery, adding even more foliage and tree cover to the park.

Proud Providence residents.

After participating in this spring’s planting day, our executive director Katherine Brown said, “We had the good fortune to work with the neighbors and so many other community partners. The park is now safer, and people care about it. It all started with those pear trees. They brought neighbors together, and we’ve transformed the park.”

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