That food justice organization in Six Corners--those kids who grow gardens where nothing but weeds and garbage stood before--they’re good neighbors to have, especially when you live in a nationally recognized food desert.
They work closely with the people who live nearby and when people walk by the gardens, GtC workers greet them. Strangers and neighbors alike are invited to come in and visit, and learn what GtC is doing here. When dogs visit the gardens, they are shooed away. Ali approaches the dogs’ owners and since everyone already knows everyone else, he handles the issue like neighbors should, without rancor. Keeping the community peace is more important than a few plants.
Gardening the Community has been in Springfield for ten years and, befitting an organization that has grown into its position among community leaders, they mentor other groups that want to take up urban gardening. They help the Girl’s Club and a veteran’s group, among others, to grow their own food on plots in the city, whether it is at the local library or on their own grounds. The group knows how to approach the city and other property owners for permission, as well as where and how to get soil tested, very important first steps to anyone wishing to begin community gardens.
GtC grows organically, using no pesticides or chemical fertilizers. In the winter, GtC youth choose seeds from catalogues. A new greenhouse is going up on one of the plots, which will reduce the group’s dependence on neighboring farms for starter plants, their other source of garden plants. They compost, collect rainwater, and experiment liberally with organic growing practices: they grow basil among the tomato plants to repel pests and improve flavor and their permaculture lettuce is a tightly spiraling marvel, almost entirely free of weeds. Traditional raised rows of white and sweet potatoes needed a heavy weeding on a recent morning in the Hancock Street garden, and this reporter bent over rows with a handful of youth workers who chattered about their mutual friends and relatives in the neighborhood as we worked.
On June 1, a tornado tore across Springfield, damaging homes and businesses. One of GtC’s gardens sustained damage, but the most critical harm came in the form of displacement of their workers. Nearly half of the young people who worked in GtC’s gardens before June 1 are gone now, living in other parts of the city, state, or beyond, while their homes or schools await repair. Families who suffered damage and remain in the area are part of a new GtC program: a farm share called GTC EATS, supplied by Next Barn Over, a CSA farm in Hadley, MA. Thirty families now benefit from the weekly shares, some of which are delivered by bicycle.
The produce grown in the three Gardening the Community plots are brought to market by bicycle, too. The youth sell their fruits, vegetables, and flowers at the Mason Square Farmer’s Market, which materializes on a busy intersection in Springfield every Saturday during the farm season.
Justin Cascio believes that everyone deserves to eat well. He writes about food, focusing on both the ethical and the hedonistic aspects of eating locally sourced, homemade food and sharing it with other people. Justin is a year-round bicycle commuter, and writes about cycling for Examiner.com. He lives with his husband, their dog, and two cats. Read his blog at: justincooks.