By Sister Anna Gilbert-Muhammad, NOFA/Mass Food Access Director 

Marc, a youth leader from Roca, shows off a large head of bok choy harvested from the Open Pantry Garden

The 2022 growing season for the Open Pantry Garden and the Tapley Garden, although very challenging due to drought conditions in Western Massachusetts, ended in abundance and joy.

This year brought new youth leaders from Roca to the Tapley Garden and Open Pantry Gardens for the growing season. Roca is a youth development organization that addresses teen trauma, and disrupts incarceration, poverty, teen violence, and racism.  This season Marc Diaz, one Roca’s youth leaders, joined the Open Pantry garden and participated in the maintenance, food distribution and pop-up gardening sessions at the garden. He also participated in the weekly harvesting of eggplant, tomatoes, peppers and pumpkins from the garden. The total harvest of the garden this season totaled over 1200 lbs. 

Marc is very keen and excited to live a healthy lifestyle and enjoys making and selling sea moss. Currently Marc is leading the Youth Leaders at the Tapley garden in a 4-week session on sea moss, its health benefits, recipes and how it can be a great soil amendment. It is Marc’s enthusiasm and desire to be a farmer once he completes his program with Roca that is exciting and to watch. Marc said when the youth from Tapley Garden asked his reason for wanting to grow food, he said, “Good food brings life, and I am able to participate in making sure that the community can receive this wonderful produce”.

Marc will participate in the Specialty Crops Grant program, funded by MDAR, that NOFA/Mass will be running for the next three years at the Tapley Garden in Springfield, MA. Marc is looking forward to bringing more of his friends from Roca to participate in the Open Pantry Garden next year.

For more information concerning the Open Pantry Garden and the NOFA/Mass Food Access program, please contact Sis. Anna Muhammad at