By Anna Gilbert-Muhammad, NOFA/Mass Food Access Coordinator
The Community Garden at Open Pantry is in its first season and the harvest has been extraordinarily bountiful, with approximately 750 lbs. of food being harvested so far. The harvest is rich in both produce and community building.
Open Pantry partnered with NOFA/Mass and The Springfield Health Department to develop the garden area that is located on School Street in Springfield, MA. This area is impoverished, with few options for access to fresh food. The garden space provides an opening for community members to access healthier food. For many people in the neighborhood, the garden is a bright spot in an area that has suffered from poverty a great deal.
Another lasting benefit of the Open Pantry Garden is that it brings other organizations together to learn and build. The young men from ROCA (an at–risk youth intervention organization), built 5 raised beds and contributed 10 more beds to the garden for next season. A small group of new gardeners from the Opportunity House planted in one of the beds. They provide fresh herbs and greens to the garden and continue to come over weekly for small, quick gardening classes. Bags of harvested food are passed out weekly to neighbors and community organizations (ROCA and Open Pantry) for their clients and families.
José, a community regular who comes weekly to gather peppers and tomatoes from the garden, mentioned that “The garden beds have brightened the corner. I love walking past this corner now, just to see what is growing.” Brie, who lives across the street and visits weekly for her tomatoes said, “These tomatoes are so sweet. I can’t wait until it’s time to harvest to get a few.” Sometimes, even now, during the pandemic, members stand far enough away, but can still talk with each other about how they use the fresh produce.
For next season, Open Pantry has ambitious plans to expand the garden to include 10 additional beds and have those beds dedicated to producing for their Emergency Food Pantry located on Main Street in Springfield. The garden has been a wonderful surprise oasis that continues to blossom and serve.
If you want more information on the Open Pantry garden or if you wish to donate or volunteer, please reach out to NOFA/Mass’s Food Access Coordinator, Anna Gilbert–Muhammad at firstname.lastname@example.org.