|By G. Michael Dobbs|
MAPLE-HIGH SIX CORNERS It's a bright sunny spring day and a group of young people are busy clearing weeds from a garden area. Older children help the younger ones with the correct techniques of using a hoe and a garden hook to remove the weeds and loosen the soil. Nearby a pile of compost sits ready to be worked into the soil and several blueberry bushes have just been watered.
This scene isn't taking place on a farm, but in a vacant lot on Central Street where, for the fourth year, Gardening in the Community not only teaches the principles of organic gardening, but also gives city children the chance to work to together and learn about cooperation, community food systems, hunger awareness and nutrition.
Ruby Maddox is the community organizer for the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA) chapter in Massachusetts. As she spoke to Reminder Publications about the project, she was peppered with questions such as "Is this a weed?" "Where should I put it?" "Is this right?" from the children new to the program. The returning children were quickly cleaning up one lot and moving on to the next.
There are ten children in the group ranging in age from 12 to 17, and many of them have been involved with the garden for three to four years .
"It [the garden] has made a postive impact on many students," Maddox said.
With the help of the Maple High Six Corners Neighborhood Council, the garden was transformed four years ago from a vacant lot with trash to a place where the students raise food for their families, to sell at their own roadside stand and to donate to groups that combat hunger.
The Springfield Park and Recreation Department, American International College and the Springfield Girls Club have also assisted the project.
Maddox said that most of the students are from the neighborhood, but some are from other areas of the city.
This year, tomatoes, broccoli, cabbage, corn, beans and squash will be grown, and Maddox plans to have blueberries next year.
The non-profit project is in need of support. Maddox said that the group needs a larger shed, hand pruners, bales of straw, wood chips, milk crates and another wheelbarrow.
All contributions are tax-deductible and Maddox can be reached at 781-6967 or at P.O. Box 5470, Springfield, MA, 01101.