Students from Mount Holyoke's Center for the Environment helped the Springfield Urban Agriculture Project create a new home for its Gardening the Community (GTC) program. GTC youth and staff, and many local volunteers, broke ground on Saturday, October 28, at 50 Lebanon Street in Springfield, Massachusetts. The new garden site--formerly located on Central Street in Springfield--is owned by Mitchell Machine, a third-generation family business started in the 1920s.
Gardening the Community employs Springfield youth each year between the ages of 12 and 17, paying them a small stipend in exchange for their time. The youth are taught principles of community involvement, organic agriculture, environmental stewardship, and urban development. While learning, they become participants in their community, run a small vegetable business, and donate food to local food pantries.
Word of the garden has already gotten around the neighborhood. The president of the Old Hill Neighborhood Council, Omega Johnson, lives right across the street from the site. "A garden here will really improve the site," she said. Kids along the street have joined Gardening the Community to help with trash cleanup and bed making. One of the resident children has run out of her house to stop people from dumping trash on the site and put up a sign to discourage littering, according to Johnson.
"For me, the garden represents that another way is possible. So many of us in the urban community are disconnected from the land and do not have access to fresh, locally grown food," said Ruby Maddox, the Center for the Environment's program coordinator. "This is a health issue. If there is no fuel to transport food to the local supermarkets or convenience stores, communities might starve. This is an economic and environmental justice issue."
One of the Center for the Environment's goals is to ensure that students develop a critical understanding of fundamental environmental issues and the interactions between people and environmental systems. The partnership with Gardening the Community gives MHC students the chance to explore social, cultural, and political-economic dimensions of environmental concern.
"It was an amazing experience to see a trash-filled lot transform into a beautiful garden site in a month's time," said Allison Neher '07, who grew up in an agricultural town on the West Coast. "It's inspirational to work with a group of adults and youth who are collectively working to reach outside of the box of the urban environment and make something else work."