Thursday, May 06, 2010

Plotting a revolution

The process of rethinking the form and functions of cities continues. Committed citizens are finding creative ways of transforming urban neighborhoods from places whose existence depends entirely upon importing to meet their basic needs into oases of sustainable production. (GW)

Fertile, not futile


By Danielle Kahn
Telegram and Gazette
May 4, 2010

WORCESTER — On the first warm weekend of spring, Peter Friedland, the Worcester County outreach coordinator for the New Entry Sustainable Farming Project, walked around the small plot of land next to the Fanning Building at 24 Chatham St.

He stopped to lift up tarps and marveled at what he found beneath them. Sprouts of spinach peeked out from the dirt in rows, the baby plants no bigger than blades of grass. In a plot of unused land originally slated to be paved over, claytonia and cabbage pop up out of tilled soil. Growing under a tunnel-like polymer cover held up by wire and rope, arugula, spinach and tendrils of pea plants can finally reach their leaves toward the spring sun.

This is the Worcester Educational Garden, a community garden next to the School Department's Adult Learning Center in the Fanning Building, and it thrives thanks to Mr. Friedland and refugee workers from Bhutan who tend the garden. They live in Worcester and receive help from Lutheran Social Services. Bhutan is a country in South Asia bordered by China and India. Many of the refugees are unemployed and looking for work.

They've coaxed crops out of the soil in a place where no one expects them, at a time when nothing usually grows — between city buildings, a parking garage and a busy street and during the cold months of winter.

The winter greens crop, now being harvested, is just one step toward fighting hunger. Others are under way.

“Community gardens are getting big,” said Mr. Friedland, whose New Entry Sustainable Farming Project is a partnership of Tufts University Friedman School of Nutrition in Boston and the Community Teamwork, an agency in Lowell. “I saw that and I wanted to put together a continuum of services, from beginning to end.”

The first round of the spring harvest has recently been sold — three bags of spring salad greens mix. About 50 bags of greens are expected to be harvested, sold through The Artichoke Food Co-op, 800 Main St., with proceeds going to the refugee workers, said Mr. Friedland.

Peas, spinach, mache (a French spring salad green) and chervil survived the winter growing season to harvest; the arugula did not, he said. Some of the peas have grown tall enough to be used for braising greens. Flowers on others will be harvested. Others will be grown to the pea pod stage.

The number of people battling food insecurity in Worcester is increasing, according to local experts. A Worcester County Food Bank study found that about 12,000 people receive emergency food assistance in Worcester County in any given week. Many of those clients are families with children under age 18, 91 percent of whom are “food insecure.” According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, being food insecure means that a family does not have “access at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members.”

As the problem grows, new solutions such as community gardens are being put to the test around the city. Organizations such as the Regional Environmental Council and the Worcester Advisory Food Policy Council, and places such as the Worcester Educational Garden, launched in August, are trying to raise awareness of hunger and show people they can grow — and sell — their own food in urban areas..

Mr. Friedland recognizes that even something as small as the Worcester Educational Garden can help revolutionize farming everywhere.

“We started with $800 from Lutheran Social Services for seeds and soil for the winter garden,” he said. “It's still very small but it has huge potential to revolutionize farming. If New England farmers are getting money for winter veggies it can help with food security. If you've got it, you can do something with it.”

He said growing plants in winter takes special technique. Planted early enough, vegetables can grow big enough to be harvested throughout winter, he said. If not ready for harvest but with roots established enough, “they can over-winter and be ready for a spring harvest,” he said.

Mr. Freidland hopes he can show people that gardening is not so daunting and not just for rural areas. Gardening can provide families with fresh, healthy food, even in land between sidewalks.

“There's a lot going on with the refugee population,” Ms. Sheehan said. “One idea is to have the refugees harvest greens and sell them under a brand that other refugees can sell under too. They can all get a plot for free and then sell what they grow at a farmers' market.”


Post a Comment

<< Home