128. Pleasantville Community Garden | Devin Juros | West Chester, NY

Building a Community Garden


I am stoked to introduce this guest from the Pleasantville Community Garden because he is just gonna INSPIRE everybody! He’s young, super YOUNG!  and I think probably still a Millennial because he is only 14 years old! I found him because one of my past guests  Jacqueline Freeman from episode 121 mentioned Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move program and I went to her website and then I went to her website and he commented on her webpage or twitter feed or instagram or somewhere and he said he hopes she comes to his garden and if anyone happens to have any connections to Michelle Obama I sure hope she will go visit his garden! (and of course I totally want her to come on the Organic Gardener Podcast too!) So welcome to the show Devin!!!

His name is Devin Juros!

I was 12 when I came up with the idea and I am now 14!

I love that, because I always tell everyone I was in 4th grade when I read a book about Montana and then said I was gonna move to Montnaan and so I think your never too young to start dreaming about your future. So you were 

Your in West Chester, NY and you created this community garden because there are still 200,000 people hungry people in the area still and that’s where the idea came from?

Tell us a little about yourself.

It was 2 things combined … Doing research I found that 200,00 people which was about 20% of West Chester. I didn’t think that was fair. Because there’s a lot of richer people in West Chester, people who have a lot, but then there were so man people who didn’t even have enough to eat at night… I didn’t think that was fair, so I wanted people to understand that and help fight that problem in West Chester.

And also through my church we do, Midnight Run, which is we send food into the city, to help people in NYC who don’t have enough food, and people who are on the streets, homeless people… and that just opened my eyes to the hunger around me. I didn’t see the reason why these people are hungry and I would have food at night. So that’s really where the idea came from.

Well tell us the gardening connection? Where’d that come from instead of just donating canned food etc?

I actually started gardening with my father when I was very young? We did flowers, herbs awesome, vegetables so that introduced me to gardening.

When I was doing my research, I found that food pantries tend to have boxed and canned food, but they have a lot of sugar and salt so the will last a long time. So people who go to pantries don’t get a lot of vegetables and they wouldn’t be able to buy it, because vegetables and fruits often cost more.

That’s definitely true!

I saw this problem and I really wanted to be able to bring this fresh food to people.

They taste good, the freshness…  I just loved having vegetables they taste so much better…

That is just the most wonderful story. So already got the Tell me about your first gardening experience? question…

So do you want to tell us how did you learn how to garden organically?

It was more that my father, when we were growing in our garden at home, we never used the pesticides and everything, we just gardening organically, just using good soil, good compost. We have a compost pile at our house. Definitely with the garden we do that as well.

Since were bringing fresh food to people who really need it, so using chemicals and pesticides in our garden  it doesn’t make sense to bring them food that has these harmful substance over it!

Excellent you’re a great guest I can tell listners are gonna be excited already!

Tell us about something that grew well this year.

Fo the last two years we grew tomatoes, these are the largest tomatoes I’ve ever seen like 7 feet high!!

No way!!

We have to get these long stakes and put them in the garden and tie them as they’re growing up, a;though they always sendup falling down. Because they grow so well. We definitely got 100 lbs from just 7 plants!

Wow that’s a lot of tomatoes? Why do you think they grow so well?

We have our garden in our sunny part of where it is, they definitely get a lot of sunlight which helps them and we really try to get good soil, while we were working on the idea of the garden and we were meeting people. Somebody we met with said the main thing you want to focus on is how good the quality of the soil. The plants grow and keep the bugs away, is how well the soil is how well they grow! We get the soil and compost from a local farm I think that helps them grow really we’ll!

Is there something you would do different next year or want to try/new?

Yes, we have done this in the past,we grow peppers because some of the pantries that we grow for in the area, have a larger hispanic population that use the population. When we met with the pantries, they said, when we are able to give peppers they are more likely to use peppers. So we grew some jalapeños and bell peppers sweet.

I think that’s a great thing for people to hear, just GO and ASK. Can I ask were you nervous at all going and talking to the food pantry? Because I could see being nervous to go approach them? What gave up the confidence to reach out to them?

To reach out and see if we could donate tot eh pantries? I think it was more, I didn’t feel uncomfortable, because I just really wanted to bring food to the people. We just wanted to make sure that the food got there.. csues by this time we had already thought through the idea, we wanted to grow the vegetables for the food that really needed it,

where we can bring the vegetables and how we could give them to the people.

Now did you say you work with more then one food bank…

I can tell you about the main place that we donate to is Hillside Food Outreach, it’s a great pantry,  they have multiple locations, they drive the food to people who need it. It’s for people who have multiple jobs or have a disease or sickness or are bed ridden, so they couldn’t get to a pantry and get the food and bring it back to you. They actually bring the food to the people who ned it. Most of our food goes to Hillside Food Outreach, I think we meet 25-30% of heir produce needs, they reach 2400 people across West Chester.

Tell me about something that didn’t work so well this season.

What didn’t grow as well this year for us was squash. We had a problem with an airborne mold that kind of killed the squash about 1/2 way through the season. We want to still use it, so we are trying to find a way to kill the mold.

I had a guest who’s kind of near you in NJ, Mary Frances Harris, she was saying they tried to keep the leaves off the ground, it might be different for an airborne mold?

Which activity is your least favorite activity to do in the garden.

More not forcing my self to do it, my least favorite thing is watering, because I really like getting into the dirt and working with the plants… and watering is not as exciting for me.

Watering is very time consuming. 

Yes, but it is Very Important!

What is your favorite activity to do in the garden?

Definitely, digging in the dirt, being able to work with the soil, so probably planting and then being able to see that seed you put in the ground, that seeds sprout and then grow in to a natural plant! I just find that amazing, how that can happen and the  fruit that it can give all coming form that one seed!

Now how big is the garden? I’ve seen some pictures.

Total size of the garden is 600 square feet. We are located at a local church. Pleasantville is a nice town, it has a lot of nice houses, but not a lot of land, but the church was about the only place left in Pleasantville to plant so we are very gracious we have that land.

600 feet, about 300 sq feet, is growing space is our beds.

So what’s in the other space? Lawn or bushes?

Basically just pathways, there are a lot of deer, so we decided we have to build a fence. That was the main cost of the garden, had to pay about $9000 to pay for the building of garden… That was so we could keep the pests out and so we could grow everything.

So where did you come up with $9000?

Well, that was the first 2 years of the project. I started when I was about 11, we decided we had to gain support and raise money. First met with local people in our community about our idea.

I had never done anything like this or thought about it and neither had my dad on anything like this, so we met with local people. People who were involved with gardens or landscaping, to talk with them and found out this idea was possible to develop a garden so we could grow food for the local food pantries. So once we decided we were going to do it, we had to raise support from the community:

  • we went to local events
  • held booths
  • we gave out information 

anything to get people to support our project and awarenes sin the community about hunger in West Chester, and then we categorized that support by getting people to give us their emails. so they would give us emails so we could send out blasts of emails to our supports telling them about all that was needed in the garden or ask for volunteers who to tell them how much food we donated to the pantry.

We got about 600 people on our email list by the time we had built the garden

we knew we had to raise about $9k to build this garden that would last a long time and be able to build food for the pantry.

We applied for fundraising for a grant, and got a $4k grant

  • approached people what we knew
  • friends and family
  • held little events to raise money

to raise that extra $5k to build the garden.

It was an amazing experience, it showed me how the organization works,

  • how to gain support
  • how methodical
  • and you can’t take any shortcuts.

So I thought that was interesting and amazing. So finally we raised the $9k. In 2014, we built the garden over 2 weekends! The first weekend we had about 30 people come out and we got the posts and cemented them down.

The second weekend had 70 people

I know listeners are gonna be like this is amazing I can’t beleive what this guy did!

It was amazing! We tried to include people of all ages! We had people of 4 to 80, multigenerational, tried to make sure we included people of all different ages

so for the years to come

we would have volunteers for generations

peoples running around with buckets of gravel and dirt.

We worked for maybe 3-4 hours that day. But we finished the garden and got everything planted and that’s how we got everything built. It was an amazing experience, starting from 11 years old, the whole lead up

see the whole thing come into existence.

I really think people are going to listen to this. You’re just this man of service. You’re making it sound so easy! I know it wasn’t that easy. and then I know it must have taken a lot of dedication and probably days you wanted to go play with your friends! 

Did you start things from seeds or from plant starts?

We found and kind of continued this, we grow some things from seeds. We start somethings indoors like early peas, because we want to get in the garden so we can get in as fast as possible. But with most of our other stuff, like squash and lettuce plants grow faster, planting things in the ground works better.

Now it’s March 17, St Patrick’s Day, do you have things coming up in NY? We have spinach but that’s from last fall, nothing this year planted. WE planted some clover cover crop. Have you started planting anything yet?

Yes we actually have, last weekend, it’s been fairly warm, so we planted the peas last weekend.

Indoors or outdoors?

We planted some from outdoors, we’re gonna put more.

I think we usually have to wait till after Earth Day, but don’t quote me.

We usually have to wait longer, it was really cold, but then it had gotten warm.

What is the best gardening advice you have ever received?

The best gardening advice that I have received is to grow things far apart. This was when we started talking our main goal is to grow as much produce as possible to give as much food to the people in need at the pantry.

After talking to this local farmer, growing 500 lettuce plants is not gonna provide as much as spacing them out… so that’s what we do with all of our plants. That’s also one of the reason our tomatoes plants grow so good, because we do like  a foot in-between each plant. So it’s like a balance because you’re loosing all that space that you could be planting seeds, they’re bigger and healthier they have room to grow so you can produce more vegetables.

That’s funny cause I still remember that same Mary Frances Saying don’t forget to take pictures so remember how big the plants are gonna get and you need to leave room for things to grow and I know it’s always hard for me, because I hate thinning.

A favorite tool that you like to use? If you had to move and could only take one tool with you what would it be.

I’d just say, I usually just work with my hands, I like using the soil. But I guess, maybe just a shovel, a small shovel to take out weeds. When we have to start growing again we wile these giant weeds just mangled everywhere, then it’s nice to be able to ge them out.

Thtat’s a sign to me, that you are having raised beds, because if you were planting in the ground I don’t know if it’s as easy to dig with soil, but in a raised bed you can reaching there with your hands. 

Raised beds really make it easier,  it allows people to, makes it easier to work in the beds

easier to put, makes everything enclosed.

I’m a big proponent of raised beds, I want my husband to go build my mom some raised beds here. 

A favorite recipe you like to cook from the garden?

We don’t, we donate all the food from our garden to the pantry

But do you have a garden at home?

Defintely, we don’t ave a lot of space but we grow some peas

our yards kind of small, we can grow squash or zucchini, rhubarb, my dad made me a rhubarb pie…

Strawberry rhubarb?

strawberry rhubarb

My husband’s always trying to get me to make a strawberry rhubarb pie, but I’m more of a crisp girl or a strudel girl… What about squash or zucchini do you actually eat that stuff?

Yes, we sometimes make a quiche or breaded zucchini slices.

Nobody’s talked about that yet!

Thats another reason I wanted to move towards gardening, is because my mom cooks vegetables and just makes fun stuff and I definitely like vegetables and that got me doing something about gardening.

I’ve been subbing this week with the 5th graders and the middle school. Where I work the fifth graders have chrome books, and my granddaughter in high school even gets to take it home. And the fifth graders got to do this cool thing called Fwitter, where it wasn’t on the computer but it was like twitter in a book and they had to write a positive Fweet each day. It was really cool. And then he coolest app the 8th graders showed me was face swap

A favorite internet resource?

Do you mean for social media, how we use social media for teaching the community about our project?

Yes…that would be great! Cause then listeners could learn about how to use FB to learn about things in their community.

We use Facebook and Instagram, our two main way we promote the garden and teach about hunger in West Chester and to get people interested in our project

ask for volunteers

pvillegarden.org to explain the project, to learn about us,  and what we’re going and want that’s the main goal!

Are you on snap chat, I just got on snap chat this weekend. If you’re on snapchat look me up! At the organicgpodcast. I’m having a hard time with the social media piece. 

It’s definitely important to use social media to show people what your doing, I think a lot of people use it marketing and gets your name out there in the community.

I use instagram to learn about how people are gardening, I’ll contact other gardeners, and just find out info about how we do things so we can make our garden the best it can possibly be!

A favorite reading material-book, mag, blog/website etc you can recommend?

Actually the website that we get seeds from which is Johnny’s Seeds. When you buy seeds they have a great description. The watering it needs, when you can harvest, it just has great information for what we’re gonna be growing. Great resources…

If you have a business to you have any advice for our listeners about how to sell extra produce or get started in the industry?

I think like I said, it’s just really important to go through any step and not taking any shortcuts.

We raised a couple of hundred dollars from our friends and put some seeds in the ground to get started, but it was like a year and a half to two years, it took a lot of time to gain support, work with people in the community, the town of Pleasantville, and different groups, it took a lot of time so when we started that we had enough support, and we would be able to sustain and have enough.

You know who you remind me of, it was like espied 7-8, I talked with Abe Long from the Community Garden in  Rosebud Oregon and you’re just so patient and that’s just so rare because when I wa your age, I was so impatient, a day seemed like a week and a month was like a long year and I could never do that!

Final question

If there was one change you would like to see to create a greener world what would it be? For example is there a charity or organization your passionate about or a project you would like to see put into action. What do you feel is the most crucial issue facing our planet in regards to the environment either in your local area or on a national or global scale?

I think definitely deforestation is a really big issue, taking down all the trees which is destroying habitats and organism and making the air quality poor. So I think that’s a really big issue. But I also think gardening and growing more gardens and people know where food is coming from and how important is is to grow food and vegetables I think that is a way to make the world a great place!!!

You’re such an amazing young man and making such a great difference in your community. Did we tell people how much food your growing and donating?

For the first year, we grew 500lbs of produce from our garden, we also work with local organizations, we work with the farmers market, we collect left over vegetables at the end. this is just vegetables that would just go to waste and/or compost so that’s a way we are able to take that resource and convert it into food that people could really use.

We also got another 1000lbs from that and other organizations

that year we donated 1500lbs of food

last year, we grew more and donated 600lbs of fresh food,

We also worked with the food pantry year round and we worked with other local organizations where we would do fresh food drives, and instead of trying to collect canned food and boxed food having people bring fresh food because the fresh food which is so hard which is really hard to get. Last year we donated over 11,000 lbs of food!!!! 

11,ooo? That’s a big increatse?

Our goal the first year we donated 1500 pounds so last year we doubled that so our goal 3000,  and we reached that in like 3 months?

Do u have an inspiration tip or quote to help motivate our listeners to reach into that dirt and start their own garden?

I think it’s really just that you really can do anything that you put your work into.

With the garden, when I started it I was like 11 years old, seeing from then what we’ve done now, I could never imagined that it would grow into what it is, like donating 11000 lbs in just a year, II never would have imagined that we would have that kind of success, so I would say you  can;t always imagine it so I would say I think that’s going to happen and go with your heart and go with what you know…

So if you see a problem with society and I saw hunger and lack of fresh food and saw that gardening was the best way to do that

following your heart

working with other people what we accomplished.

I could never have done alone, starting out working with my family and then with

starting out with groups and the town

hundreds of



Just to know that you’re not doing this by yourself, you can have other people work with you, working with people makes it so much easier, because you have someone to work through ideas with you, make sure everything your doing is plausilbe and feasible will help make things easier…

Where do you want to go… do you want to be president I’d probably vote for you now but you have to be 35…

I’m definitely not sure yet,

the non-profit has become interesting to me, I’m not sure, but definitely with this process,

  • I’ve learned a lot about how to raise money,
  • how to work with people,
  • public speaking
  • all these skills I’ve learned through the project

how the non-profit to make everyone to work together

continuing with gardening, how a seed grows into a plant, it’s an amazing experience to see you can grow something. to eat…

How do we connect with you?

Our website is pvillegarden.org

Follow us on Social Media!

Facebook: Pleasantville Community Garden

Twitter: @pvillegarden

Instagram:  pleasantville community garden

you can contact us info@pvillegarden.org

I definitely would encourage people to donate to the Pville Community Garden if you have the funds. It could be your Earth day Contribution and if you know Michelle Obama send her his way!!!

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About the author, Jackie Marie

I'm an artist and educator. I live at the "Organic Oasis" with my husband Mike where we practice earth friendly techniques in our garden nestled in the mountains of Montana.

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