By: Connor Burbridge
Monocacy Creek runs through Downtown Bethlehem and converges in the center of town.
It provides natural beauty to the north side of Bethlehem, with dramatic views of the creek that can be seen in the downtown or at the Monocacy Creek Park. The creek was named by the Lenni-Lenape people who resided in New Jersey, Delaware, southern New York and eastern Pennsylvania at the time when the European colonists came. In the Story of Berks County (Pennsylvania) written by A. E. Wagner Balthaser Francis Wilhauer and Hoch D. K. in 1913, Monocacy is reported to derive from the “Indian” word, Manakesse, which means stream with large beds. However, another source has the origin of Monocacy being from the Shawnee word Monnockkesey, which means crooked river. Shawnee is an Algonquian language spoken by the Shawnee people of Virginia, Maryland and Southern Pennsylvania and not by the Lenni-Lenape. The contradiction may come from the fact that there are two bodies of water named Monocacy, one in Pennsylvania and one in Maryland ( “Monocacy Creek and Monocacy River.”) . Therefore, the two different tribes may have used the same word with different definitions. However, the lack of publicly available information on the naming of these tributaries is a historical disrespect to the people who lived here before the European Colonizers. Both of these tributaries are significant geographic features for the communities they go through. Yet, Parks associated with these different tributaries include no information on the origin of their naming. On the other hand, the histories of the naming of the settlements of Allentown, Bethlehem, and Easton, which make up the Lehigh Valley, are all well documented in the public historical record. Much of the history of the Lenni-Lenape and other people who inhabited this land during that period are lost to the historical record. In order to pay respect to the people that lived here before Europeans, more information should be available on the history and practices of Indigenous people including the Lenni-Lenape (“Our Tribal History.”) . Permaculture seeks to do this in a small way by incorporating practices of Indigenous people into modern life.
The practices of Permaculture are grounded in an ecological, systems view of agriculture and urban planning. Permaculture can be interpreted as a modernization of many of the practices of the Lenni-Lenape people and other indigenous people of the Americas, just with a different name.
The Indigenous people of the Americas created energetically stable agriculture techniques, such as the “three sisters planting”, which use relationships between plants to create healthy soil and, in turn, healthy plants. Permaculture takes traditional practices like the Three Sisters and puts them in a modern context backed by empirical, scientific evidence to facilitate projects that create productive and regenerative ecosystem-based production systems in urban environments. The Southside Permaculture Park is one of the projects applying these techniques. The Southside Permaculture Park in Bethlehem is not only a project of a group of volunteers or a certain institution, but is also a project based in the practices and traditions of the people who have lived here for thousands of years. Among the influence of the Lenni-Lenape people, the work of the Southside Permaculture Park is also influenced by the work of other urban agriculture projects that are based in the traditions of their communities including the Life Do Grow Farm and the Oakland Avenue Farm.
The Life Do Grow Farm is an urban farm based in a North Philadelphia neighborhood near Temple University.
The farm incorporates Hip-Hop culture into their farm as a way to base themselves within the traditions of the community. North Philadelphia is one of the most underserved populations in the city. With high unemployment, a high number of abandoned homes, and many areas without access to quality food, the presence of an urban farm, on a spot that used to be an illegal dumping site is inspiring. Walking on to the farm, graffiti art and murals cover the walls, children run around and groups of adults talk near a vegetable bed. The farm features an aquaponics set up, a greenhouse, and many rows of vegetable beds. Life Do Grow Farm is a unique project because the farm founders ground themselves in creativity, particularly Hip-Hop. The neighborhood around the farm is mostly Black so grounding the farm in a largely Black cultural tradition has garnered a lot of excitement from the neighborhood. Besides hosting graffiti artists, the farm also hosts a Hip-Hop culture festival every year. The festival, named Hoodstock, features local artists, MCs, dancers, and singers. In addition to this, the farm invites successful rappers to visit the farm to inspire the youth and attract attention to the problems of the neighborhood. The farm also provides fresh organic produce, for free, to dozens of families in the neighborhood during the summer (“LIFE DO GROW FARM.”) . An urban farm in Detroit has used a similar community tradition based approach but with a very different culture.
The Oakland Avenue Urban Farm has launched what they call “the first agri-cultural’ urban landscape.”
Situated in Detroit’s historic North End, the farm works to revitalize a neighborhood that has been devastated by Detroit’s poverty and housing crises. The farm bases its practices in the neighborhood’s tradition of Funk Music. Detroit’s North End was a hang out for many of the famous Funk musicians of the 70’s. An abandoned barbershop and bar near the farm are where many of the musicians used to hang out and play. The farm has incorporated Funk into their design by including a performance stage and a community public art project. The farm regularly host musicians and bands, many of which are influenced by the Funk tradition. The farm has also partnered with local musicians to have the Mothership, an award winning DJ booth designed with Funk influences, placed at the farm for a community show. The response to the farm project has been positive, with many local youth and community members getting involved in the project (“About Our Farm.”) .
The two projects, the Life Do Grow farm and the Oakland Avenue farm, offer creative examples of how an urban agriculture project can ground itself in the cultural practices of a neighborhood’s history in order to better engage a community.
The Southside Permaculture Park plans to use these influences to better engage with the incredibly diverse neighborhood in which it is located. We are in the process of building a calisthenic amphitheater, which will act as a fitness area as well as a performance space. Using this space, we plan to collaborate with the Hispanic Center of the Lehigh Valley to culturally engage with our Hispanic neighbors. We also plan to collaborate with student music clubs to host open mics that give all people of the neighborhood a chance to perform. Finally, we are grounding the park in the traditions of the Lenni-Lenape through our use of Permaculture and regenerative ecological practices. By collaborating with the Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape state recognized tribe based in New Jersey, we plan to host events that will celebrate Indigenous culture as well as inform the community on the history of the Lenni-Lenape. We strive to ground ourselves within a spiritual practice of respect for the Lenni-Lenape people, their struggles and traditions.
This park is not just ours. We come here through the rivers and streams of history and tradition. The ancestors speak through us and we will not let them down. The earth depends on it.
1. Balthaser, Francis Wilhauer, and A E Wagner. The Story of Berks County, Pennsylvania. Historical Society Press of Berks County, Pennsylvania, 1913.
2. “Monocacy Creek and Monocacy River.” Philadelphia Reflections: What Happened in Philadelphia on July 4, 1776?, www.philadelphia-reflections.com/blog/1835.htm.
3. “Our Tribal History.” Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Indians of New Jersey, www.nanticoke-lenape.info/history.htm.
4. “LIFE DO GROW FARM.” Urban Creators, www.phillyurbancreators.org/life-do-grow-farm.
5. “About Our Farm.” Oakland Ave Farm, www.oaklandurbanfarm.org/about.html.