By Anna Gilbert-Muhammad, Food Access Program Coordinator

Friends of the Homeless, located at the Worthington Street Homeless Shelter in Springfield, Massachusetts, held their Diabetes Initiative Workshops for shelter members every Tuesday at 755 Worthington Street last spring.  This season, the group wanted to include a garden; so, the sessions began outside with the small, impromptu garden created by the participants.  During the meetings, the group learned how organic gardening, healthy soil and healthy food can assist with controlling diabetes. During this class, the members were very excited about the budding cucumbers and small, green tomatoes that were appearing in the plot.

“Wow!  Here come the tomatoes!!” yelled one participant.  Anna Gilbert-Muhammad, Food Access Coordinator and Equity Director for NOFA/Mass, very carefully pointed out how to tell the difference between the male and female flowers on a nearby cucumber plant. “The cucumber appears with this flower– the female flower”, she carefully held the plant to point out the different flowers. During the garden lesson, Anna pointed out what to look for as the tomatoes develop, how to tell if the plant is healthy and how to add compost to the plot. That day’s food demonstration focused on making a healthy salad.

Friends of the homeless
Garden bed at Friends of the Homeless

The Garden and Food Demonstrations are held through a partnership between NOFA/Mass and Health Care for the Homeless (City of Springfield Health Department).  Health Care for the Homeless works to reach the city’s homeless population to bring health care nutrition education and diabetes awareness.  Diabetes is a particularly difficult disease to treat and track among the homeless.  Therefore, the Diabetes Initiative was established with the Worthington Street Shelter to work with the homeless to set up diet management classes and gardening classes.  NOFA/Mass provides the gardening classes and some food demonstrations as part of NOFA/Mass’s Food as Medicine theme. Next spring and summer, the garden will expand from 1 plot to 3 plots.

The expanded garden will provide more produce for the 10 members of the group with food demonstrations and food to take back to their dorms, with the remaining vegetables going to the shelter kitchen for weekly healthy specials. Mary, one of the participants, is an avid gardener and enjoys seeing the correlation between healthy soil, healthy food and a healthy diet.  “I am so excited about the new garden and I love the food demonstrations.  We get to take samples back to our rooms.”  Food demonstrations include salsa, tomato bruschetta, garden salads and guacamole.  All the ingredients were harvested from the garden for each demonstration.

When asked what he would like to plant and eat next season, Daryl, a longtime participant, happily announced, “I want to make some Chow Chow!!”  Anna and Kathy both replied,” Oh we can make that happen– we want some too!!”

Check back in upcoming NOFA/Mass Newsletters to see what is growing and cooking in the Worthington Street Shelter Garden! For more information concerning Food as Medicine and Community Garden Activities in Springfield, contact Anna Gilbert-Muhammad