Gardening the Community turns health hazards into healthy opportunities

Garden the Community cleared new property for a garden.

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – Flowers and vegetables are replacing eyesores in Springfield. 22News found out how residents turned abandoned lots into sources of food.

“This is a food desert,” said Anne Richmond, Program Director for the Springfield-based organization, Gardening the Community.

Gardens are actually blossoming in Springfield’s Mason Square neighborhood, where the organization is based.

“There’s a lack of affordable, healthy food options for this community. There’s lots of corner stores and fast food places, but we’ve lost all the full-line grocery stores that were once here,” Richmond told 22News.

That’s why for the past twelve years, through hard work, Gardening the Community has been turning abandoned lots, into bountiful vegetable gardens.

“Take abandoned sites and put in gardens, which I think is better than just leaving them open for trash collection,” said volunteer Awilda Sanchez, who lives in the Old Hill neighborhood of Springfield.

On Saturday, nearly 30 volunteers knocked down buildings, fences and cleared land on the first lot the organization has actually owned. Through donations, they were able to purchase two-thirds of an acre of land, at 200 Walnut Street, from the City in July.

The goal is to grow fresh produce and eventually sell it at a reasonable price at the Mason Square Farmers’ Market. It’s already been working. Purple string beans and green tomatoes, for example, were grown at an established plot on Hancock Street.

22News traced back red tomatoes for sale to a similar garden on Lebanon Street, just a block from Walnut Street.

“We deliver produce on bikes using trailers, so yeah, it’s definitely a lot of hard work but at the end of the day it’s rewarding because you know you’re doing good for the community,” said volunteer Dondre Scott of Springfield.

Instead of serving as a health hazard, Springfield’s empty lots are providing new healthy opportunities for inner city residents who might not otherwise have the chance to enjoy the very fruits of their labor.

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