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City workers clean up community garden

The Baltimore Sun

Hours after the appearance of a front-page article in The Sun on Saturday about illegal dumping on a West Baltimore community garden, two trucks and a gaggle of employees from the city's Bureau of Solid Waste descended on the site and cleared the debris .

The debris removal was ordered by Mayor Sheila Dixon, who has made cleaning the city a top priority of her adminstration.

Teresa M. Stephens, the manager of the garden, has received several calls and e-mails from community members and city officials since the article ran. She is now arranging for volunteers to work at the garden April 14. The group will build compost bins and possibly do some planting, she said.

A group of high school students from Towson are set to attend, and city officials said Dixon hopes to visit the garden.

"When I saw [the cleaned area], I thought the angels had answered my prayers," Stephens said yesterday. "You know, it just happened so quick. [Dixon is] impressing me. She's not forgetting the community, which is great."

Standing on the site last week, it was hard to imagine that it had once been a thriving green space where corn and spinach grew.

It was a mess. Part of the chicken wire fence surrounding the garden in the 1200 block of Shields Place in Upton had been torn down. And a pile of debris -- apparently dumped by construction contractors -- littered the area.

The garden, one of the Gardens of Hope, is funded by a partnership between the Upton Planning Committee and the National Italian American Foundation.

Neighborhood residents and community groups have tended the garden over the years, laboring to keep the grounds clean and grow produce, some of which is donated to homeless shelters.

Founded in 1992 through the city's Adopt-A-Block program, the garden is next to an alley that for years served as a stomping ground for drug dealers.

The grassy alley in the rear of boarded up rowhouses -- has served as an illegal dumping ground for as long as anyone can remember. More recently though, as contractors have descended on the neighborhood to refurbish homes that are now selling for more than $300,000, the dumping has increased.

"The mayor's made a commitment to cleaning up this city, and that involves government working hand-in-hand with community leaders like Teresa Stephens [president of the Upton Planning Committee and a longtime community resident]," said Dixon spokesman, Anthony W. McCarthy. "It is a prime example of where the city can intervene in helping citizens keep their communities clean and green. The citizens called for help, and the city answered that call."

Authorities are investigating to determine who is responsible for the dumping, McCarthy said. He said the perpetrator could be fined and ordered to perform community service.

Gloria H. Luster, 82, who founded the garden, has for years cleaned up after the dumpers and said she was pleasantly surprised to hear the city had stepped up.

"You don't know how many hours and full days I spent there, and then to see it just destroyed for no reason," Luster said. "This has never happened, that the city came in and cleaned it up. That's just fantastic."

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