By Sis. Anna Muhammad, NOFA/Mass Food Access Director

Left to right: Ruben Parrilla, Agnes Frias, Sis. Dora Miller, Sis. Anna Gilbert-Muhammad at Soil Health Day at Tapley Garden, August 30, 2022.

In August 2022, Tapley Garden in Springfield, MA celebrated a milestone by hosting a Soil Health Day. Sponsored by the Massachusetts Department of Agriculture’s Coordinated Soil Health Program, and in conjunction with American Farmland Trust, the Soil Health Day at Tapley Garden focused on soil practices that were developed over time and now are being used to grow healthy and abundant harvests that feed the families of Tapley Court Apartments and the surrounding community.

Ruben Parrilla, NOFA/Mass Soil Technical Assistance Coordinator, gave a presentation on the signs of soil health that most backyard and community gardeners can recognize. Ruben spoke about how sophisticated tools such as a penetrometer, which measures compaction, and simpler tools, like sticks, can help determine the condition of soil and tell us how plant roots are growing. He also touched on the importance of microbial life in the soil and how the soil’s texture and condition of the plants growing in it are good indicators of soil health.

Agnes Frias, NOFA/Mass’s Bioremediation Project Assistant, led a garden tour and talked a little about the use of companion planting in the garden. Agnes and I spoke about some of the soil health practices that we have been using in the garden during the 5 years of the program. Some of the techniques include planting cover crops, mulching with comfrey and wood chips and working with Indigenous Microorganisms.

Participants were also treated to an herbal medicine demonstration by Sis. Aminah Muhammad, a Certified Herbalist from Boston. She demonstrated how to make simple teas using tulsi basil and feverfew herbs. Both herbs are grown in the Tapley Garden. Sis. Aminah led a discussion on the historical nature of working with herbal remedies, especially in BIPOC communities, which has historically been very important to the health and wellness of community members.

The Tapley Garden and the Youth Agricultural Science Program is a partnership between Home City Housing and NOFA/Mass. It has been funded in part by a grant received by Home City Housing from The New England Grassroots Environmental Fund. If you would like to learn more about the NOFA/Mass Food Access Program or to donate to the program, visit or contact Sis. Anna Gilbert-Muhammad at If you would like more information about NOFA/Mass’s Soil Technical Assistance Program, visit or contact Ruben Parrilla at