Wednesday, September 30, 2009

REACHing for the Harvest

Long about three months ago, on June 12 to be exact, Storey editor Deb Burns wrote an entry on this blog about our local hospital planting a food garden. Here's the lonely little tomato plant back then:

Photo by Mars Vilaubi

Well, here's that same garden, tomato plant fully grown and a lot of other edibles surrounding it in their full, ripe glory:

And that's the hospital's "garden lady," Jennifer Munoz, reaching for the basil. Jennifer is the Get Fit program manager of REACH for Community Health and the creative force behind its gardening program. An avid gardener all her life, she found a way to combine her love of gardening with her job of outreach to the community. This summer she's established 10 different gardens, in locations ranging from the hospital to the high school to various neighborhoods and low-income housing projects.

Now that the gardens have had all summer to grow, it's the perfect time to accompany Jennifer on her rounds. We start our tour at the local high school, where there is a huge and productive garden:

Last spring the kids taking shop class created the raised bed frames and the home economics class planted the garden and got it going. Over the summer, the summer school students and teachers adopted the gardens and kept them weeded and watered. Now that school is going again, another group of students is watching the gardens really produce their bounty. I got a chance to talk to one of their teachers, whose enthusiasm is irresistible. I think back to my high school teachers and try to picture them out in a garden, and I come up blank. The teaching here is experiential, and it can get dirt under your fingernails. I hear about how the kids are often blown away to actually see how vegetables grow, never mind to discover that the taste is nothing like that of the plastic-bag equivalent shipped from hundreds of miles away.

Check out this great cucumber screen:

And this amazing chard:

Next stop on our tour, a low-income subsidized housing neighborhood. As we pull in, several children spot Jennifer and come running up — "It's the garden lady! Is today garden club day?" Her garden clubs serve well over 300 kids and their parents, most of whom have never had a garden before. With Jennifer's weekly visits, they learn how to plant, weed, water, and care for the gardens . . . and now that it's harvest time, the kids are reaping the rewards of their work and patience. Today the prize was some adorable little round cucumbers, a variety I've never seen before.

These are lemon cucumbers, clearly delighting one little garden clubber,
and I, too, find that they are delicious!

After we visit more gardens, I begin to realize that these gardens are providing more than fitness and food. They've grown to be a community gathering place, a shared space where it's natural and easy to come together, exchange recipes, enjoy a spot that's green and productive and beautiful.

It reminded me of a comment our Massachusetts governor, Deval Patrick, made when he visited our offices here at Storey Publishing. He looked at one of our gardening books and said, "When I was growing up in a housing project in Chicago, my grandmother had a little flower garden. She tended it every day, watering it and taking care of each bloom. You know, everything else there was trashed, broken, burned over, or had graffiti all over it. But nobody messed with my grandmother's garden. It was the only beautiful thing we had to enjoy in the projects."

Like Governor Patrick's grandmother, Jennifer is creating little Gardens of Eden, one neighborhood at a time. Her weekly visits on behalf of the hospital's outreach program benefit everyone in so many ways. Jennifer's sunny and accepting nature radiates warmth, and by extension the hospital feels like a place that is friendly, open, accessible, and caring and not a scary place full of sickness and pain.

Yesterday, at harvest day, the vegetables at the hospital's little garden were picked and donated to the Berkshire Food Project. They received carrots, beans, nasturtiums, and Swiss chard — and they were going to make some carrot ginger soup for the daily lunch they prepare for anyone in need.


— Pam Art, President

1 comment:

Deb Burns said...

Wonderful story and so inspiring.