Robinson Gardens residents unite with a shared garden
The Robinson Gardens community garden is back in action, and all good things will be growing up green soon.
Families at the Springfield Housing Authority development gathered recently to till and plant their fifth annual community garden in the center of the housing complex located in the heart of the Pine Point section of the city.
The garden is a collaboration of love that includes families, SHA’s Talk/Read Succeed! program, Gardening The Community and the University of Massachusetts Extension Service. Besides the planting, which drew a healthy crowd, the project will include ongoing visits throughout the summer, when parents and children can watch the garden grow and learn many aspects of gardening, good diet and health.
At the planting, fathers, mothers and children helped dig holes and tenderly set in spinach, and zucchini. They also set up a small wooden teepee that will soon be vined and shady with snow peas, and spread seeds that will grow into tasty carrots. There will also be eggplant, corn, peppers, pumpkins, collard greens, onions, cilantro, recao, and even blueberries, apples and pears.
For Robinson Gardens resident Ivette Fernandez, gardening is time well spent.
“Everyone loves a garden. Having one like this in the middle of where we live, it brings people together and it gets the children involved,” she said. “And then of course there’s the food that you grow and eat.”
Fernandez has been key to launching the first garden in 2015, and its continuing success.
With their usual enthusiasm, children also dug right in, providing a healthy mix of conversation, gardening and playtime.
“Gardening is fun,” proclaimed Nadesha Perez, who is 9. “We get to plant things that will grow here, and then we can pick them and eat them.
SHA Executive Director Denise Jordan praised the effort for its multi-faceted benefits to so many.
“A community garden brings people together around the common and positive goal of growing things that can be used for healthy eating,” she said. “It’s also educational, and fun, for everyone who partakes.”
T/R/S! Program Coordinator Lynne Cimino organizes the garden each year. She has her sights set on multiple benefits for residents.
“We want all of the Robinson Gardens community to be a part of this, and to share in the harvest. While the garden is growing, we have ongoing activities to keep it healthy and as an educational tool for the children,” Cimino said.
Watering is a near-daily activity through the growing season, Cimino noted. In past years, children have become enthusiastic enough to adopt and name plants, and to be sure they are growing up strong and healthy.
Children also measure the plants and chart their growth, writing in journals as the fruits and vegetables reach seasonal milestones and become ready for the picking and eating. There will be ongoing shared meals, along with individual pickings for residents.
The garden project will also feature ongoing visits by representatives of Gardening The Community and the University of Massachusetts Extension Service, who will educate and share in the fun.
Anna Muhammad of Gardening The Community has helped with the Robinson Gardens project in past summers. She is also affiliated with the Springfield Food Policy Council as well as the Northeast Organic Farming Association, and so brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to the work.
Her work will emphasize many aspects of gardening, from working with children and families to watch plants grow and spot potential growth issues, to the health benefits of both gardening and eating healthy foods.
“We’re looking to increase healthy food consumption, particularly among children and families,” Muhammad said. “We want to decrease food insecurity through gardening, which is a great activity that promotes health and community.”
The other regular visitor will be Amanda McCabe-Hernandez, nutrition educator from the UMass Extension Nutrition Education Program. She will be working the garden with children and parents, showing and discussing things like what makes for good soil and thriving plants, along with some harvesting, cooking, and enjoying the fruits of that together.
There will also be outdoor activities and games, a further promotion of good health.
McCabe-Hernandez said a community garden is a perfect activity to focus on all things relating to health, and children are naturally drawn to growing good things.
“It’s easy to see that these children are having a great time today,” she said, gesturing to the shared focus on planting.
“We’ll be doing things that keep the garden healthy, and keep the children thinking about their own health, in positive ways,” she added.
As the garden planting progressed, neighbors came out and offered to help – outreach that was gladly accepted. Resident Eduardo Perez hoed sections of land targeted for planting, and said he was happy to be a part of it.
“I like planting, and I like helping out,” he said. “It’s nice being outside and doing something you know will help.”
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