Community gardeners ramping up for a new season

By 
Jackie Gentile, Special to the Reporter
Apr. 21, 2011

April showers bring May flowers but come June, fresh vegetables, fruits and flowers will crop up in community gardens throughout Dorchester. The Boston Natural Areas Network is teaming up with local organizations including the Dorchester Environmental Health Coalition for the Boston Is Growing Gardens Project. In its second year, BIGG encourages residents, with and without experience, to cultivate a better community.

Project manager and BNAN staffer Grantley Payne emphasizes that BIGG will benefit the neighborhood in many different ways. “The message is great things are happening in community gardens. We want more of our residents taking advantage of them,” Payne said.

“We have health issues with obesity and diabetes that disproportionately affect our community,” says Roseanne Foley of DEHC. “Eating healthier food is one of the big ways to combat those sorts of chronic health issues [and] when you’re gardening, you’re outside and you’re exercising.”

Formerly, Payne was a nutrition educator for seven-and-a-half years.

“Everybody eats!” he laughs. “So [you] might as well know what kind of food you should be putting into your body, right?”

Payne has connected with multiple youth programs, health centers, Dynamic Seniors in Action at Codman Square, ABCD and Kit Clark’s Fit-4-Life among many others in order to raise awareness about how to achieve healthy living through local community gardens.

One local garden that will benefit from BIGG is the Nightingale community garden located at 512 Park St. near Washington St. The green space, named after the Florence Nightingale School that once stood there, is undergoing renovations to add 12 accessible raised bed gardens and an orchard, install a new water system and increase the number of plots from 30 to 125. The face-lift will improve accessibility for green thumbs of all ages and make Nightingale the largest community garden in Dorchester at 1.5 acres. Completion is slated for mid-June.

“I think we’re done with snow for now,” laughs Foley. “It’s hard to think about gardening in the winter when we were first talking about it because there was so much snow and ice and cold outside, but folks are definitely very enthusiastic and I think we’ll have pretty close to a full house once gardening starts.”
Payne reports that there are 60 gardeners signed up at Nightingale alone. There were 30 last year.
“For me, [community gardens] kind of represent the quickest or the best way to gain local food access,” Payne explains.

Foley adds, “The project to increase the number of community garden plots in Dorchester is incredibly exciting because it kind of meshes with a lot of food justice issues that are happening right now in Boston and everywhere in the country, for that matter.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture released a report in 2009 illustrating the country’s food deserts - areas where healthy food is not easily accessible. In these locations, cheap, unhealthy meals such as those offered at fast food restaurants are more readily available than nutritious options; produce is costly and not even fresh, if available at all.

A 2007 study on Boston community gardens revealed that a single plot can produce between $400-$500 worth of fresh, organic food.

“You’re saving money, you’re getting the exercise, you’re having delicious food,” Foley says. “It’s kind of a wonderful cycle there.”

In addition to plots, BIGG will offer beginners’ garden workshops, yoga sessions, watercolor painting workshops, live music, biking and walking tours and healthy cooking demonstrations - all homegrown in a Dorchester community garden.

Plots are $20 and measure 15’ x 20’. For more information, email BNAN at info@bostonnatural.org or visit bostonnatural.org/cgBIGG.htm.