By Stephanie Van Parys, Executive Director, Wylde Center.
Mulberry Fields garden is celebrating its 20th birthday this year. To celebrate, we will be sharing a piece of its story in this publication each month. For March, we are highlighting, Jesse Bathrick, the founder of Mulberry Field Gardens.
Let’s get started!
Every community garden starts with a seed of an idea. “What if we turned this open lot into a garden for the community?” In order for that idea to become a reality, you need a driving force, a person who is willing to give all of her extra time to making the community garden happen. For Mulberry Fields garden that person was Jesse Bathrick who in 1992 wanted to save the beautiful open lot behind her house from being developed into condos.
Jesse and Richard Bathrick moved to Iverson Street in 1979. All of the houses on their block backed up to an open field that in the late 1800’s was a dairy farm with the original farm house sitting on Candler Street. The open field was owned by Jack Talbot who grew up on the property in the early 1900’s. He allowed the neighbors to enjoy the open space.
Children, including the Bathrick’s son Sam and his friends, would use the field as their play space. Jesse, with Mr. Talbot’s permission, started growing vegetable and flowers at the edge of the field. It was in 1992 that Mr. Talbot announced he was selling his land to developers to convert the big open sunny space into condos. Realizing the impact of the decision on their lives, their neighbors, and the many children who made this space their play area, Jesse went into action. How could they save this greenspace?
Ultimately, the Bathricks and their neighbors, the Abrams/Crowther family invested their own money to save the property. Mr. Talbot agreed to sell, and Jesse agreed to take the charge in turning this open garden into a space for the community.
Let’s find community garden plot holders!
In 1999, it was time to find neighbors who wanted to grow their own vegetables in their own plots at Mulberry Fields. Jesse distributed flyers around the neighborhood sharing news about this new effort and how people could get involved. Fred Conrad with the Atlanta Community Food Bank found a grant that provided funds for the first six plots to be built. Jesse and Richard brought in the first goats Alice and Iris, to clear the area of the kudzu, privet and blackberry tangle. Chickens soon followed.
Managing a community garden is no small feat. Jesse Bathrick has always been a gardener and in her lifetime has built many gardens. It was a natural progression for her to build Mulberry Fields. For almost twenty years, she handled the day-to-day management of the garden. She managed the plot. She solved the water access issues, paid the property taxes, planned fundraisers, invited neighbors to enjoy the space, handled the marketing, and made sure the property was protected by a conservation easement. Richard, her husband made sure it was mowed and the trees were trimmed. Richard added the rope swing and the basketball court. A team formed to care for the goats and chickens.
Yes, that is what it takes to have a community garden!
Heroes among us
Mulberry Fields is celebrating its 20th birthday this year. Twenty years is a long time for a neighborhood. Good friends move in while others move away. A story can get lost if allowed and new folks may say, “I wonder how this garden got started?” Jesse Bathrick is the answer. Through her efforts, we have Mulberry Fields today, a neighborhood treasure. We will be celebrating her contribution on September 7th at our annual party and fundraiser. Save the date!
Meanwhile, be sure to come visit Mulberry Fields. It is located next to 1303 Iverson Street, Atlanta, GA 30307. You may walk or bike to it, or park on Iverson and walk down the unpaved alley. We have beautiful garden plots, a fabulous swing, chickens AND goats! If you see Jesse, be sure to say “thank you!”