Harvest time at the Riverview Apartments community garden
It’s that time of year again: The days are getting shorter, the nights are cooling down, and leaves are turning to shades of red, orange and gold.
At a two-acre plot behind Springfield Housing Authority’s Riverview Apartments, that means it’s time to take down the sprawling community garden, where residents work and play together and come up with home-grown and organic vegetables.
This year, according to those who work the soil daily, the garden did especially well – luscious tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, corn, eggplant, beans, peas, squash and pumpkins sprouted up from the ground throughout the season.
“It was a good year,” said Reyes Morales, a long-time resident at Riverview who has been working a share of the garden for the past 15 years.
“Not too much rain, just enough. We had great weather for the garden all summer,” he said.
Morales and his friend Jose Casiano agree that the garden is more than just about food, though themselves, their families and friends enjoy the fruits of their labor a lot.
It’s also about companionship, working together for a shared goal, and being in the great outdoors for most of the day during the growing season.
“It’s therapeutic,” Casiano said. “We all feel great just being out here. We work on our sections of the garden, we talk together.”
SHA has many community gardens, but none compares to the one at Riverview in terms of size and participation. This year, there were 15 men and women involved. Each gardener pays a small fee, depending on the size they choose, and the money is used to host a garden party at the end of the season, as well as to buy seeds and other supplies for the next year.
SHA Executive Director Denise Jordan offered high praise for the efforts of all gardeners at public housing, and for the organizations that help them.
“We love supporting our community gardens in whatever ways possible,” Jordan said. “Gardening is a great way to connect with neighbors in a positive way and to grow healthy food for families.”
Some gardens, including the one at Riverview, get manpower and technical help from the Hampden County Correctional Center and Gardening the Community and the University of Massachusetts Extension Service.
At this time of year, jail Community Service Officer Wilfredo Reyes and his crew of volunteer inmates come out to pick up the pulled out and piled-up plants and till the soil for next year’s garden. The crew also has its own, smaller adjacent garden where tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, eggplants and more are given out to Riverview residents throughout the growing season. This year, there were nine such fresh food giveaways.
“It’s great community service for our inmates and also great for the residents who line up when they know we have food to give away from our garden,” Reyes said. He and his crew help several other community gardens across the city.
At the larger garden, SHA Resident Services Coordinator works closely with the gardeners to ensure their work runs smoothly.
“Everybody loves the garden, just watching things grow makes us feel good,” she said. “It brings people together. They’re busy, they’re outside most of the day, and they’re making good friends with each other.”
She added, “They give a lot of the vegetables away, and the residents love that.”
Born 82 years ago on a farm in Orocovis, Puerto Rico, Morales knows a thing or two about planting, growing and harvesting vegetables. He own plot is ripe with tomatoes, sweet peppers, eggplant, beans, black-eyed peas and pumpkins, including everything needed to make the Sofrito, the spicy sauce used as a base in Spanish, Italian, Portuguese and Latin American cooking.
The garden, he said, is his passion.
“I love being here. This is therapy for me. I’m here every morning, and every afternoon,” he said. “We’re all friends here. We all know each other.”
Once the growing season ends, he said with a laugh, “we sleep.”
Casiano was also born on a farm in Puerto Rico, in the town of Jayuya, just to the west of Morales’ hometown. He also worked many years outdoors.
Like his friend, Casiano loves the Riverview garden.
“It’s good for me and it’s good for all of us,” said the 55-year-old. “I’ve been farming all my life.”
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