The Home City Housing Youth Agricultural Program and Open Pantry Garden
By Anna Gilbert-Muhammad, NOFA/Mass Food Access Director

Two women kneel in a garden, planting vegetable plants.

Anna Gilbert-Muhammad (center) gives planting instructions to youth participants in the Tapley Court Garden, Springfield, MA. Photo credit: Lisa Gilardi

2021 started with some uncertainty for many communities as the COVID-19 virus continued into the new year.  However, the gardens at Tapley Court Apartments (through the partnership of NOFA/Mass and Home City Housing) and the Open Pantry Garden continued to help with food security for community members and provide organic gardening training for youth leaders.

During the late spring and summer of 2021, 5 new youth leaders joined the team, with Agnes and Bernard (returnees from previous sessions) leading as instructors and crew leaders. This year, over 1700 pounds of food was grown and harvested from the Tapley Court Garden and Open Pantry Garden, then given to the residents and families of Tapley Court and the surrounding neighborhood on Sherman Street and Bay Street in Springfield, MA. The youth leaders conducted garden tours and assisted with harvest events, including showing families how to harvest eggplant, peppers and squash.

This year’s group activities included traveling throughout the state and parts of Southern New England to work with other farms in the region. We visited:

  • Just Roots, Greenfield, MA – We examined how a CSA program is developed and managed. The youth enjoyed meeting farmer and manager Meryl Latronica, weeding some of the garden beds and tasting fresh Thai basil.
  • The African Alliance/Bami Farms, Providence, RI – We were introduced to crops from Nigeria and Liberia, and interviewed the local farmers that grow and sell at the Pop-Up Market in Providence. Director Juluis Kolawole gave the group a stevia plant for the Tapley Court Garden, which proved a great attraction for the families of the Tapley Court Apartments.
  • Many Hands Organic Farm, Barre, MA – We learned about increasing soil health-building practices like cover cropping, crop rotation and mulching. The youth enjoyed working with farmer and owner Julie Rawson, flying drone cameras, pitching hay and learning how seedlings are started in a greenhouse.
  • Woven Roots Farm, Tyringham, MA – We saw intensive seedling production with farmer and owner Jen Salinetti. The youth planted corn, transplanted seedlings, planted seedlings in the field and enjoyed lunch from the farm with Jen and her family.

More Successes in 2021

We covered some new instructional topics this past year, which built upon previous conversations and demonstrations around soil health. 

  • NOFA/Mass Board Member John Duke and I provided 2 instructional classes on soil microbiology. 
  • We completed some food preservation classes on making and canning favorite foods of the youth like salsa and Bread and Butter Zucchini (a type of pickled zucchini). 
  • We held conversational sessions with community members related to the history of the Bay Neighborhood and soil health testing at the Bioremediation site on Franklin Street.
An urban garden with chainlink fence and brick building.

The Tapley Court Community Garden, Springfield, MA. Photo credit: Lisa Gilardi

The Open Pantry Garden continued to produce plenty of food, with 5 additional beds being added this year. Approximately 1,000 pounds of food was harvested from the Open Pantry Garden and given to families of Arise for Social Justice and Open Pantry. Also this year, fencing was added to the garden to improve infrastructure, and next year we will see the addition of a small farm stand, a tool shed, and new classes for children and families happening right in the garden.

The NOFA/Mass Food Access Program is looking forward to a bright and productive 2022 with additions to programming and plans to grow additional food.

You can support these efforts by making a donation to NOFA/Mass or sharing this information with your network.