|Child gardeners harvest benefits|
Saturday, August 28, 2004
By MARY ELLEN O'SHEA
SPRINGFIELD - Along Central Street into the heart of one of the city's poorest neighborhoods can be discovered a lush garden where juicy tomatoes, crunchy cucumbers and fat watermelons climb right out of the ground.
The garden sits on a small lot before the intersection of Rifle Street and has been tilled, planted, watered and weeded by a crew of eager children.
Now, the "gardening the community" plot is ready for harvest, and neighbors, area food pantries, and passersby are the lucky recipients of a standout crop.
Yesterday, the 12 children and two adults involved celebrated their summer labors with a garden party, complete with samples for visitors.
For participants like 12-year-old Timothy L. Garner, the garden made for happy summer days in the sun, tending his plants and watching them grow taller and more lush by the day. He also picked up skills that he believes have made him a better person.
"It's good to learn how to work together, and how to grow things that you can bring home and eat," said Timothy, who will be a seventh-grader at the nearby Elias Brookings School. "It's nice just looking at something that you did."
The project is in its third year, with two locations on Central Street. The other is a few blocks to the west.
Sponsored by the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Massachusetts, the project's purpose is to teach gardening skills to young people.
This year, funding to support the $35,000 program came from donations, along with grants from the Haymarket People's Fund, the Greenleaf Foundation, and the Open Field Foundation.
Program co-director Ruby S. Maddox said the garden brings home-grown organic food to city dwellers, along with paychecks of $30 to participants for their 12-hour work weeks.
"It's a great job experience for them, and it teaches them how to grow their own food," she said.
The children also traveled to several area farms and food pantries to see how food is grown and distributed.
Ten-year-old Janeece K. Bonilla had only good things to say about her summer experience.
"It was very fun," said Janeece, who will enter the fourth grade at the Edward Boland Elementary School. "I learned a lot about taking care of plants; they need a lot of water and a lot of sun."
Besides a group garden on the land, each child got a square to plant his or her favorites, along with the privilege of taking the produce home, selling it at a roadside stand, or just giving it away.
In his third year with the program, 15-year-old Thomas A. LeDuc worked as a junior staff member and guided the younger ones through the process.
"It's been a really productive year," he reported. "We grew about double what we had last year."
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