Garden Harvest party at Robinson Gardens
Springfield Housing Authority’s Robinson Gardens Apartment celebrated another successful year of community gardening, and in a big way.
There was music. And food. And pumpkin picking and decorating. And face painting. And even a donut-eating contest, which had contestants kneeling and contorting to eat a hanging treat without touching it.
This is the fourth year of the community garden at the housing development in the Pine Point Section of the city, and residents have grown to appreciate it more with each passing season. The garden is indeed a group effort, drawing adults and children alike during planting, growing and harvesting season.
“Everybody loves it,” said Keishliand Sanchez, who helped out at the harvest party by selling cookies and other treats to help raise funds for winter gloves and hats for the children.
“It’s just a great place where we can help grow good food and go in and pick vegetables we can cook up for dinner,” she added.
Sanchez is in good company. Throughout the summer, neighbors were more than willing to help when it was time to plant, weed, water and of course, reap the garden’s good blessings. This year, the harvest included tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, snow peas, carrots, eggplant, corn, peppers, pumpkins, watermelons, collard greens, onions, cilantro, recao, and more.
Besides the eager residents, the community garden got some help from SHA’s Talk/Read/Succeed! family-based early literacy program, the University of Massachusetts Extension Service and Gardening The Community.
SHA Executive Director Denise Jordan said the authority is always happy to support something as healthy and community-building as a garden.
“Community gardens are the perfect places to build positive neighborly bonds in ongoing outdoor activities that result in benefits for all – nutritious, healthy, home-grown food for the table,” Jordan said.
At the harvest celebration, parents and children alike agreed that the day was a perfect celebration after a summer of laboring over, and enjoying, the garden. Pumpkin decorating was thanks to a generous donation of 75 of the orange fruit from Bradwell Farms of Hadley.
“This is great for the families, especially the children,” said Ivette Fernandez, whose sons, Hancel and Alberto Valentin, 11 and 7, enthusiastically joined in the fun.
Fernandez is one of the original gardeners at Robinson Gardens, and manages to keep the outside of her own apartment beautiful with an abundance of seasonal colors and decorations.
Another resident, Jay Santos, said the celebration was the perfect way to show appreciation for the garden and to mingle with neighbors.
“I love this,” he said. I love it when we celebrate like this. It’s great outdoor fun for the kids and we’re all having a good time,” he added.
Lynne Cimino, who is program coordinator at Robinson Gardens for Talk/Read/Succeed!, said the garden has grown more popular and successful every year. Partnerships with Gardening The Community and the UMass Extension Service meant a series of visits throughout the growing season, for planting, nourishing and education.
Visits featured hands-on lessons in plant growth and harvesting, on the benefits of healthy and natural food, and even on cooking up tasty delights straight from the ground to the kitchen.
Cimino said the growing season, and the party that celebrated the harvest, were highly successful this year, she said.
“Both children and adults enjoyed the activities, including donut-eating from a string, guessing a pumpkin’s weight, picking pumpkins from the garden pumpkin patch and decorating, interaction with AMR Ambulance Service, exploring a Springfield Fire Department truck and most of all enjoying time with others and mingling with neighbors,” Cimino said.
Over the past four years, the garden has evolved into a place where adults and children take pride in and partake in the harvest. We continue to work to empower the families,” Cimino added. “The community garden at Robinson Gardens was initiated by residents to provide families the opportunity to have access to fresh, traditional produce that is nutritionally rich for this low-income community, eat healthier, and consume more vegetables on daily basis thus better diets. This healthy food will promote healthier lifestyles where people can celebrate, grow, and cook together thus building a stronger bonds amongst residents.”
Also, she noted, ongoing gardening workshops will be offered throughout the year, with all families invited to participate. “We are excited to educate the children, youth and adults about gardening and the importance of community, environmental responsibility and stewardship year round,” she said.
Cimino had plenty of support from the young people who attended the celebration.
Ten-year-old Ruby Velez said she loves the garden.
“It’s fun and it’s nice,” she said. “Plus that, the food is good.”
Hancel Valentin agreed, adding, “We worked a lot on the garden to make things grow. Then we got to eat them.”
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