Residents of the Woolson St. neighborhood in Mattapan had much to celebrate last Saturday as they were joined by Mayor Martin Walsh and a large contingent of public officials for a ribbon-cutting for their new community garden. The project has been a collaboration between residents, the city’s Department of Neighborhood Development, the Mattapan Food and Fitness Coalition, and Boston Natural Areas Network.
According to Mirlande Joseph, one of the neighbors who spearheaded the project, the garden is more than just soil and plants.
“After my twin brother was murdered on Woolson Street in 2006, I envisioned a community garden as a way of healing,” she said. Her neighbors embraced the idea. Increasingly traumatized by violence on the street and nearby, including a brutal quadruple murder in 2010, they, too, saw a garden as a place where they could come together to heal.
There were practical reasons as well. According to Joseph, many residents of the Woolson Street neighborhood are from the West Indies. Even younger households maintain a tradition of home cooking and family meals.
“I can’t remember a time when people weren’t talking about having a community garden where they could grow fresh food for the table,” said Joseph.
On Saturday, after a breakfast of fruit, pancakes and bacon dished up by volunteers, residents strolled in the shade to admire the way the design they had created in a series of meetings in 2013 had become a reality over the summer. At the open gate, flowerbeds and two small pear trees adorned the iron fence. Seedlings graced new soil in 12 individual plots. A curving path in the shape of a fiddlehead led to a rear patio for neighborhood events.
No one remembers who first thought of the fiddlehead design, according to Reann Gibson, an activist who went door to door to recruit her neighbors for the project two years ago.
“I just know we wanted something really cool,” she said. But construction took longer than they expected. “All summer, the neighbors were asking, ‘When can we plant?’” she said. Then just as everyone began to think it was too late, the garden was ready. BNAN donated seedlings and the first crop went into the ground on August 26.
According to Dana Staley, garden outreach and engagement coordinator for BNAN, many vegetables can be grown into the fall. Cabbage and bok choy do well and beans germinate quickly. To provide more ideas, BNAN will conduct a workshop on late-fall gardening at Woolson Street on September 20.
Gardener Huguins Pierre said he planted seedlings as soon as they arrived. He now tends several rows of lettuce that promise to produce a salad in just a few weeks. Lorna John put in herbs, including oregano, thyme and rosemary. She also has a patch of spinach and some collards. She is looking forward to the workshop on late fall gardening.
“I was surprised to learn that there are ways to grow right up to the frost -– even beyond the frost,” she said.
Although BNAN supports the garden, the neighbors will manage it themselves. The first coordinators are Robyn Gibson, Reann’s sister, and Kim Blair. The Gibsons, who live on nearby Verrill Street, believe the garden will strengthen the neighborhood. Already it has helped residents discover their neighbors.
“We have amazing neighbors,” said Robyn. She also wants to learn how to grow fresh vegetables. “My husband and I cook every night,” she said.
Kim Blair has put all the neighbors on email to make sure they are informed about important dates in the garden. She has tried to involve as many members of each generation as she can. Gardening is a natural way to connect kids and seniors.
“The garden is all about family,” said Blair.
Before the ribbon-cutting ceremony, Mayor Walsh thanked residents for leading the way. “This is how we heal from trauma in Boston and how we move forward,” he said.
Indicating the many members of law enforcement, the City Council and Massachusetts Legislature grouped around him, Walsh spoke of the collaboration needed to serve the city. He called the Woolson Street Community Garden an outstanding example of teamwork and collaboration. “There were no boundary fights,” he said.
“I thank all the neighbors for working on this space,” Walsh said. “You make it easy to love this city.”