Anna Gilbert-Muhammad, Equity Director and Food Access Program Coordinator for NOFA/Mass speaks to Youth Leaders in the Tapley Garden in Springfield, MA on July 30, 2020.. The topics for the day were cover crops and daikon radishes. (photo by Betty Jenewin)

By Anna Gilbert-Muhammad, NOFA/Mass Food Access Coordinator 

This season has provided many challenges due to COVID-19 and increased food security issues, but also many highlights. One of the best highlights of the year has been the cooking and gardening demonstrations that Home City Housing youth leaders have participated in this season. 

For the last 20 weeks, a small group of youth leaders managed a quarter of an acre farm, filmed garden training sessions for other youth leaders (who could not come to the garden due to COVID), and performed food preservation and cooking classes via Facebook Live for families and the community at large. They did all this while still tending to families, going back to virtual school, and navigating the perils of a pandemic. 

In the beginning, the filmed garden sessions were a little challenging for the youth and staff. Practicing public speaking while being recorded and learning filming techniques opened opportunities for the youth to grow and develop their skillsets. For one youth leader, Anthony Escalera, a business grew from the depths of the garden beds:  Antproductions413, started from filming the short video clips of planting tomatoes, setting up garden beds and going over plant identification. From there, Anthony purchased a drone, procured special cameras for professional photographs, purchased special video/photo editing software, and a green screen.  Anthony shared, “I always wanted to learn photography and videography. The garden helped me to do that.”   

During the cooking demonstration held at the Bay Street Community Center, Brian Medina, a more experienced youth leader (3 years with the garden), enjoyed the cooking/baking demonstrations. “I really enjoyed the Zucchini Bread. I didn’t realize that we could use the food from the garden to make desserts.”  Brian also developed an affinity for the cream cheese frosting that was used for the zucchini bread. 

In the most recent cooking class, the youth leaders practiced a little kitchen medicine by making a thyme, ginger and honey flu tonic. The thyme came directly from the Tapley Court Apartments Garden and it was a nice example of the correlation between growing food in a garden and using it for cooking or preserving. Other cooking classes included butternut squash muffins, making fresh Ramen soup (with garden vegetables), banana bread muffins (Bernard’s favorite) and preservation classes on dehydrating fruit. 

The concluding cooking class will focus on making pizza using garden vegetablesThe lesson will include making the crust and sauce as well. 

If you want to see the incredible skills displayed by the youth leaders from Home City Housing take a look at these links: – making a flu tonic – making zucchini bread 

If you would like more information on the NOFA/Mass Food Access Program, or if you wish to donate, feel free to contact Anna Gilbert-Muhammad at