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Urban Gardening

It is wonderful to speak to the elders of a community. A husband and wife team, Ms. Audrey and Mr. Walter (that is what I call them–this wonderful couple is older than me, so I show them respect by referring to them as Ms. and Mr.), and I enjoy a wonderful conversation on gardening and what got them started. 

Anna:

“Mr. Walter and Ms. Audrey, you all have such a beautiful garden. I always learn a great deal when I come over. How did you get started growing food and what keeps you going?”

Mr. Walter:

“My family is from Georgia. I had 13 brothers and sisters, so growing additional food was quite necessary. My father always had a garden and my mother would preserve food from that garden. I look forward to having a garden every year. You need food to survive.”

During the earliest days of the outbreak of COVID-19, many families, particularly families of color, started incorporating gardening into their quarantine routine.  Many families desired to have fresher food more available to their households.  Over the past few months, even more backyard gardens have been started and interest in healthy cooking continues to increase.  

In this first part of a two-part article, I would like to introduce to you to some neighborhood growers. They share their reasons for gardening, what they have gained from it, and their inspiration to continue.

Ms. Audrey and Mr. Walter:

Both transplants from the south, Mr. Walter is from Georgia and Ms. Audrey is from North Carolina.  When asked how and when they were first introduced to gardening, Mr. Walter stated: “That is what we did in the south, grew our own food.  Many of us had parents or grandparents that had small garden plots.  Everyone would harvest and share what they grew.  Other families would preserve either by canning, drying, or freezing.  It was just what we did.”  Ms. Audrey remembered how she would help harvest string beans and prepare them for eating. 

The beginning of the 2020 growing season has come with new twists and sudden changes due to COVID-19.  But it has also brought new opportunities for communities to come together around building neighborhoods and creating greater access to healthier food.

Open Pantry Community Services is a social services agency that works in close partnership with the City of Springfield Health Department.  They provide drug recovery services, classes for teen mothers, Emergency Food Pantry, Loaves and Fishes feeding program and supportive housing throughout the state.  It has always been their desire to create a garden to provide comfort, peace and healthier food to the families that live in the surrounding area.

After several weeks of physical distancing and sheltering in place, I started a research project for NOFA/Mass’s partners, Home City Housing.  We wanted to find out which families may be struggling with food insecurity due to not being able to get to the store, or not having enough money to shop. 

Staff from both Home City Housing and Robinson Gardens Apartments (a part of the Springfield Housing Authority) started combing through their family listings to find out who was in need of food, while we at NOFA/Mass began searching to find farmers who accepted SNAP payments and could deliver fresh food to Springfield, MA.

 

Early spring gives rise to planning for gardens: community gardens, backyard gardens, and school gardens are prepping their sites for planting.  In this time of the coronavirus, food insecurity issues have increased in communities across the country.  Community gardens are becoming not just a novelty, but a key source of produce and nutrition.  For communities of color that already have health disparities and few areas to access healthy food, the garden may now be the best place to provide for their households.

NOFA/Mass has an ongoing program with the youth and families of Home City Housing in Springfield, MA to assist with the self determination to grow healthy, nutritious food. Through programming that has been funded by grants and individual donors, Home City Housing and NOFA/Mass have been able to work with 15 youths to develop organic growing practices at their Tapley Street Apartment Complex.  As partners, NOFA/Mass and Home City Housing have worked together to create an interactive learning program for these youth leaders that covers carbon sequestration, no-till gardening, soil fertility and food nutrition/cooking information. 

Home City Housing, Inc, a part of Housing Management Resources, provides low income housing to over 140 families in Springfield, MA.  Two of their developments; Tapley Court Apartments and Twiggs I and II are nestled within the Mason Square Community, an area in Springfield that is made up of several neighborhoods (Old Hill, Upper Hill, Bay-Mcknight and a portion of Maple Six Corners).  This section of the city is mostly Black and Brown and the families of these two housing sites represent the makeup of these neighborhoods.

In 2017, The Tapley Court Apartment Complex, one of the main Home City Housing sites, started a community garden for the families.  Tapley Court is home to 40 families, mostly of low income.  The Old Hill Bay area where it is located has a few small bodegas and a small store, but not a Stop and Shop, Shaw’s or Shoppers for families to purchase groceries.  Instead, the nearest stores are a 20 to 30 minute bus ride to another part of the city.  The families at Tapley Court wanted a place to grow some of their favorite foods and to shorten the drive/bus ride to the supermarket.  With help from the local community garden coordinator (from the Springfield Food Policy Council) and a generous grant from a construction contractor, the Community Garden was started with great fanfare and a large party.

Nutrition, Diabetes Management and Organic Gardening

Friends of the Homeless, located at the Worthington Street Homeless Shelter in Springfield, Massachusetts, held their Diabetes Initiative Workshops for shelter members every Tuesday at 755 Worthington Street last spring.  This season, the group wanted to include a garden; so, the sessions began outside with the small, impromptu garden created by the participants.  During the meetings, the group learned how organic gardening, healthy soil and healthy food can assist with controlling diabetes. During this class, the members were very excited about the budding cucumbers and small, green tomatoes that were appearing in the plot.

New Webinar

Inspiring Ideas from Experts in The Field is entering its 4th season.  This year, the education menu for our viewers continues to grow and bring new presenters and exciting topics.  This year NOFA/Mass will focus on pollinators, the connection between healthy food and healthy bodies, and the repair of damaged soils in urban settings.  Here are some of our spring webinar offerings:

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