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      Community garden vandalized in Syracuse

      Neighbors near the 900 block of Syracuse's Midland Ave. spent Saturday installing a fence in their community garden, and putting up 'no trespass' signs to try to keep drug dealers from using it as a cut-through to an empty lot. On Sunday, they found the fence destroyed--the path re-opened--and the signs torn down.Longtime Southside activist Geneva Hayden alerted us to the vandalism: she'd just met, last Friday, with City Hall neighborhood reps, to try to get more done about the drug activity.At the garden on Monday, neighbors checked over the damage, and promised to rebuild. "We put in a lot of time, a lot of effort," says head gardener Latisha Ferguson. She promises the project will go on, and next year, she say, there will be even more families involved in growing their own produce.

      The garden revitalization is being coordinated by B.E.A.N. --Becoming Environmentally Aware Nationwide. Mario Callaway and Kierra Jackson have spent the summer in Syracuse, shepherding the project. They were thrilled at the big neighborhood kickoff, and are now heartbroken at the vandalism. "This is part of revitalizing the neighborhood," says Callaway, who also pointed out bare spots in some of the family plots, many of them close to the cut-through path, where vandals yanked plants out of the ground. Callaway's especially concerned about all the drug paraphernalia that's being found in the garden: he says it's turning up everywhere, even in the compost piles, and "it's unfortunate because we have so many children here" and you don't want them around that kind of culture.

      The fence that's been knocked open is a white garden fence, the kind you'd find in a suburban back yard. "We didn't want it to look like a prison," says B.E.A.N. co-founder Keierra Jackson. Neighbors wanted the garden to look inviting, and a six foot fence with barbed wire on top would have been 'just harsh.' Now, as they look at alternatives for repairs, they are looking at incorporating other elements that will make the fence harder to compromise. They also have to figure out financing the re-make.

      Syracuse Police were notified of the vandalism, via a 911 call on Sunday, and a spokesman for Police Chief Frank Fowler says an officer has been assigned to work the case. Syracuse's Mayor's Office was also notified of the incident.

      The Kwanzaa Garden may be the focus of neighborhood renewal, but it's not the only initiative. Geneva Hayden says that in early September, they'll stage a march to encourage school children to avoid the temptations of drug dealers.