The gorgeous garden at Nevin Avenue and First Street in Richmond has a tragic past that gave way to a promising and inspiring future.
On a bright and sunny morning in 2005, Richmond Rotarian Mark Howe, who owns a large building across the street from the garden, heard gunshots and a car smash into a telephone pole near where the garden is today.
The driver, a 22-year-old man, had been fatally shot in the head.
“He died right there in front of us,” Howe said, adding there was another murder in the area several years later.
Howe said the killing had a profound effect on him, and in an effort to improve the neighborhood he organized Richmond Rotary to help him build a community garden on surplus land he owned. Today, the Richmond Rotary Peace Garden continues to make the neighborhood safer and bring the community together for a common purpose, Howe said. The garden makes the neighborhood look cared for.
On June 14, the Richmond Rotary held a garden cleanup with community volunteers like they do every year. The garden is not just for aesthetics. Plots are assigned to neighbors at no charge where they grow herbs, fruits and vegetables, Howe said.
In 2007, the Richmond Rotary contributed $8,000 for fencing around the garden. Howe donated the land and purchased a study sculpture from Scott Donahue, a local public works artist, to adorn the site and memorialize the senseless deaths of so many Richmond young people. Other community members have contributed to the site. Richmond Sanitary donated 40 yards of compost last year to improve the soil in the beds.
But one person’s effort stands out. Ialoday Kinny, an experienced Richmond community garden coordinator has managed the site since its inception 9 years ago and deserves the lion share of the credit for making this garden a success, Howe said.
The community effort has been “surprisingly effective at making that neighborhood a lot more livable and attractive,” Howe said, adding that he hasn’t heard of a murder in the area since the garden was built.