ITHACA, N.Y.—Where once heavy construction machinery packed the Earth to the hardness of concrete, the Ithaca Community Garden now grows again. 

It’s been two long years for the Ithaca Community Garden’s Board President Sheryl Swink and her gardening compatriots. They’ve been waiting for the dust to settle and the whirl of construction to move away from their slice of paradise situated in Cayuga Park. 

Cayuga Park, located along State Route 13 across from the City of Ithaca’s Northside Neighborhood, has been a hotbed of local development. Cayuga Medical Center is opening a five story medical office there; Marketview Apartments, a building with 42 units of affordable housing, is also nearing completion. The Aurora, a two building development with 127 luxury apartment units, is also slated to be built in Cayuga Park this year.

The Ithaca Community Garden predated the building boom, but to accommodate the construction, the garden had to reduce the area that it was using and reduce access down to a limited number of people. 

Garden beds at the Ithaca Community Garden. Credit: Casey Martin / The Ithaca Voice

After machines and workers had cleared from the garden’s turf, Swink said that  “nothing would grow, not even weeds” on the compacted soil.

“When the spring came you couldn’t even get a spading fork a quarter inch into the soil,” said Swink. But, after ripping two feet deep into the garden’s soil and incorporating some generous loads of compost, potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, herbs, and other crops are all growing beautifully, says Swink. 

She wants to get the message out that the Ithaca Community Garden is welcoming volunteers to its plots. “We’re just feeling excited and energized by having gardeners showing up,” said Swink.

While the construction put a stressful pause on the life of the community garden, and the whole shape of the gardens had to be reconfigured, there are a few silver linings Swink can point to. As a part of a deal with the Ithaca Community Garden, contractors paid for a new water system and fence. 

The Ithaca Community Garden also received a $121,000 grant from the Park Foundation to help with their recuperation, said Swink. The funds helped cover the cost of restoring the soil to a loamy state and, among other things, will also go towards building a pavilion to grant some shady reprieve for the garden’s members.

Now that the Ithaca Gardens is out of the thick of Cayuga Park development, the group will be turning its attention to the type of nuisances that are more typical to a gardener than a backhoe or a bulldozer.  

“The woodchucks and the deer have been running through that site through the whole construction process — free rein,” said Swink. “You’d think it would disturb them, but no. If anything, they’ve been more active.”

Jimmy Jordan is Senior Reporter for The Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact him at Connect with him on Twitter @jmmy_jrdn