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Harvest fundraiser to benefit Gardening in the Community

Date: 10/24/2012

By Lori Szepelak

SPRINGFIELD — A pancake breakfast will serve as the backdrop for Gardening the Community's annual harvest fundraiser, slated Nov. 3 at St. Michael's Cathedral.

The 10 a.m. to noon event is planned in the Bishop Marshall Center, 260 State St. Tickets are $5 per person and $2 for children under 13. Seating is limited and the deadline to purchase tickets is Oct. 26.

Gardening the Community (GTC) is a food justice organization engaged in youth development, urban agriculture and sustainable living to build healthy and equitable communities, according to Ibrahim Ali, youth/project director, during an interview with Reminder Publications.

GTC employs youth from around the Mason Square neighborhood and beyond to grow fruits and vegetables on vacant and abandoned lots. Youth are paid a stipend and taught principles of urban sustainable living and urban agriculture. There are 20 young people in the program for the fall and winter months, and approximately 40 who work during the summer.

Ali noted that the food that is grown is sold at farmer's markets, local restaurants, and a health food store in Springfield. Youth also bring food home to their families, and any extra produce is donated.

"Food is a right, as much as the air we breathe," Ali said. "We believe that all people should have access to healthy, nutritious, affordable food, and one way to reinforce this belief is to have young folks begin to understand where and how their food is grown, as well as the system that has created inequality in the food system itself."

Youth work a full spring, summer, and fall season with GTC and assist in various community service activities that involve increasing the amount of fresh available produce.

"It is paramount that the youth begin to address and understand these issues, and our role is to introduce as many young people to the information, and give them the space to start to formulate their own understanding and make informed decisions about how and what they want to eat," Ali said.

"At GTC we talk a lot about sustainability," Anne Richmond, program director, stated in a Grow with Us Campaign letter.

Richmond said that to encourage sustainable living, all produce is delivered to market and stores with use of bicycles and bicycle trailers to reduce air pollution and build healthy lifestyle choices. No pesticides or herbicides of any kind are used, and all work is done by hand.

"Like our gardens, GTC also needs to be sustainable," Richmond said. "A financial gift, large or small, matters."

At the pancake breakfast, area residents will be introduced to a new program — the GTC Sustainer.

"Our Sustainer Program is a way for our friends to give a small amount each month, using a credit or debit card, providing a steady stream of funding for our programs," Richmond said.

Richmond explained that $5 a month can cover the cost of seeds for the fall planting, or for $10 a month, five yards of dark compost can be purchased from the Collins Farm.

Additionally, for a $20 donation each month, that money can cover the cost of a month's stipend for one of the program's youth. Third Sector New England serves as the fiscal sponsor for the organization. All donations are tax exempt under its 501c(3) tax status.

For more information or to reserve tickets for the fundraiser, call 693-5340 or email

Ali also noted that volunteers are always needed to work with the young people.

"We can always use volunteers, particularly in the spring and fall, while we set-up and prepare the gardens for the season," he said.