A garden flourishes at Robinson Gardens Apartments
The green patch in the center courtyard at Springfield Housing Authority’s Robinson Gardens Apartments is shooting up delightful edibles, and families are starting to enjoy the fruits of the bounty.
And recently, families got to harvest some of the crop, and put together and indulge in a tasty salad of strawberries, spinach and red onions in a tasty vinaigrette dressing.
The afternoon event was hosted by garden collaborators, including SHA’s Talk/Read Succeed! early literacy program, Gardening The Community and the University of Massachusetts Extension Service.
Participants were happy to survey the garden, where Amanda McCabe-Hernandez, nutrition educator from the UMass Extension Nutrition Education Program, her colleague, educator Pat Harmsen, and Anna Muhammad of Gardening The Community were happy to point out what was looking good, and what needs attention. They also directed children and parents as to what was ready for picking.
“Amanda is showing them how to increase their appetites for fruits and vegetables, and to instill in all, especially youth, the love of gardening,” Harmsen said. “These children will be our future gardeners.”
SHA Executive Director Denise Jordan congratulated the Robinson Gardens family for their progress on the garden, noting that it has been a summertime focal point since it began in 2016.
“There’s nothing like a garden to grow and nurture delicious, healthy foods,” Jordan said. “And there’s nothing like an activity that brings together community around such a positive endeavor.”
On hand to organize were SHA’s T/R/S! Coordinator Lynne Cimino, who said the benefits to the Robinson Gardens community are exponential.
“The community garden at Robinson 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,” Cimino said. “This healthy food will promote healthier lifestyles where people can celebrate, grow, and cook together thus building a stronger bonds amongst residents.”
Workshops will continue through the year to keep residents involved in the garden, even after the final harvest. Currently, the garden has raised beds, elevated raised beds, and a teepee for climbing beans to grow.
“This is truly a communal garden run by the residents of Robinson Gardens,” Cimino said. “We are excited to educate the children, youth and adults about gardening and the importance of community, environmental responsibility and stewardship year round.”
Parents and children alike flocked to the fenced-in garden as McCabe-Hernandez, Harmsen and Muhammad examined and explained. Children peered in for a closer look, taking stock of healthy growth and soil as they considered which might be ready for harvesting.
Once inside, McCabe-Hernandez explained the importance of washing fruits, vegetables, and the hands of anyone preparing food. Then, all donned gloves and sliced fresh strawberries to make for the summer salad.
As she gave directions, McCabe-Hernandez noted interesting food facts, such as the average strawberry has some 300 seeds on its skin, and that red onions lose some of their sharp taste when blended with other foods.
Finally, it was time to taste. The exercise proved a success, which all agreeing that the combination was delectable.
Robsinson Gardens resident Ivette Fernandez, an avid gardener herself who helped start the community garden, said she’s always happy to bring her two sons to partake of fun and educational activities. Garden is a special treat, she noted.
“We love this,” Fernandez said. “And every year, a lot more parents and kids are getting involved. They see us out there weeding and everyone wants to help. We’ve even started a gardening club.”
And straight from the mouths of children: “I like this,” said Hancel Valentin, who is 10 and one of Fernandez’ sons. “I like planting and watering and being a part of this. We get together and work in the garden, and then we can watch it grow.”
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