By Anna Gilbert- Muhammad, NOFA/Mass Equity Director and Food Access Coordinator
The beginning of the 2020 growing season has come with new twists and sudden changes due to COVID-19. But it has also brought new opportunities for communities to come together around building neighborhoods and creating greater access to healthier food.
Open Pantry Community Services is a social services agency that works in close partnership with the City of Springfield Health Department. They provide drug recovery services, classes for teen mothers, Emergency Food Pantry, Loaves and Fishes feeding program and supportive housing throughout the state. It has always been their desire to create a garden to provide comfort, peace and healthier food to the families that live in the surrounding area.
In late fall of 2019, Open Pantry and the City of Springfield Health Department reached out to NOFA/Mass to work together on a community garden on Open Pantry’s School Street Lot. The lot is in an area riddled with drugs, poverty, and crime. The garden will be a source of food for the Emergency Food Pantry and Loaves & Fishes Feeding Program. Classes are planned for the Teen Mothers Program at both Open Pantry and ROCA. Through a grant from the Beveridge Foundation, additional garden plots will be added later in the season to serve any families that wish to grow in the area.
When asked how this garden will serve the community, Benjamin Bland, Mass in Motion Program Coordinator, City of Springfield Health Department, stated, “This garden represents an opportunity for residents to access fresh produce in an area of the city that has serious challenges around food access to affordable fresh produce. Tying together nutrition education and cooking demonstrations will help participants become more self-sufficient and take more agency over their participation in our local food system. More broadly, this garden could create a positive social impact in an area of the city that has seen a lot of challenges.”
Terry Maxey, Executive Director of Open Pantry mentioned, “this garden can and will bring the community together. It will serve as a place of peace as well as a place to gain nourishment”. The community at large expressed their excitement for the garden as well. Community member, Bro. Milton said, “Creating a garden in this neighborhood is a sweet thing to do. I look forward to tasting the food from this garden”. Colleen O’Connor, Case Manager at Open Pantry, stated, “ There is no better therapy for society than nature and there is no better medicine than putting your hands in the soil of the Earth and appreciating this gift we are given”.
During this season, in the era of COVID-19, there will be a greater source of food for the immediate community. As the season progresses, classes may take place on fall gardening along with some cooking classes. Stay tuned for more information on upcoming virtual and in-person classes.
If you wish to donate in-kind items to this garden, please see the listing below and contact NOFA/Mass’s Equity Director and Food Access Coordinator, Anna Muhammad at firstname.lastname@example.org for more details.
- Hand tools – shovels, trowels, rakes
- Floating row cover
- Wood for new plots