In Mason Square, a neighborhood of Springfield, MA, people have come to rely on Gardening the Community (GTC) for the food they eat. GTC’s mission is to organize for food justice and healthier communities through urban agriculture, youth leadership development and sustainability living. Middle and high school students who are part of their leadership development program grow vegetables on three formerly abandoned lots in Springfield. Last year, they grew 4,000 pounds for their community. GTC was one of the presentations of Pioneer Valley Grows Network (PVGrows) during their April 7 forum, “Immigration, Food Access and Land Access,” held at Gateway City Arts in Holyoke, MA. Pioneer Valley Grows Network (PVGrows) has organized annual informational forums for farmers, food growers and food businesses for almost eight years.
Mason Square is rich in cultural and racial diversity. However, due to waves of disinvestment, “it is now economically one of the poorest neighborhoods in Springfield, and in the Commonwealth,” said Anne Richmond, GTC co-director.
GTC sells its produce at local markets they have established through their own farm share, GTC EATS! They bring in thousands of pounds of produce from other local partner farms to sell at their markets, too. Student participants — who are paid a stipend for their work — gain lifetime farming and leadership skills, confidence and civic pride as they help run GTC markets and the farm share program. Some return after college as summer staff. GTC holds workshops and trainings, from growing food to food justice organizing and policy change. Started as a summer NOFA project in 2002, GTC became their own entity in 2010.
Construction nears completion on their brand-new, permanent, year-round 650 square foot farm stand with utilities at 200 Walnut Street in Springfield. Their slated opening celebration is June 2, featuring tours of the building and greenhouse on one acre of land GTC purchased in 2014. Continually rehabbing the soil, GTC grew their first vegetables there last year. Donations are still being raised to complete construction on the farm stand.
“Corner stores often don’t carry healthy food and veggies, and certainly not vegetables that are locally grown. We try to offer multiple price points and bike delivery to make our food as accessible as possible,” said Richmond. Teams of three youth bicyclists transport GTC farm share deliveries on big bike trailers. “We have a lot of seniors that participate in the bike delivery program, as it can be hard for them to get to us,” he continued.