By Haleigh Patch
Not all urban gardens are same. In Boston, each has its own personality and purpose.
There are urban gardens which are more business or technology oriented and have fewer people working in the same area and there are community gardens which have multiple people working on smaller plots. Both are important and successful, especially in the city of Boston.
According to the city of Boston’s Open Space Plan, the city has 175 community gardens located in 11 Boston neighborhoods and historically, it has one of the oldest and largest community gardening systems in the United States. This dates all the way back to the 1890s.
During World War I, community gardening surfaced in Boston as “Victory Gardens,” which provided food for local consumption. During this time, the nation’s food supply was distributed abroad. Then, during World War II, community gardening again became a critical component of the war effort by increasing domestic food production. Civilians were encouraged to grow their own gardens.
The Fenway Victory Gardens, which is made up of over 500 gardens spanning 7.5 acres, is one of the two remaining continuously operating World War II Victory Gardens in the United States and the only garden to have continued its operation in the same location as it was during the War.
Pam Jorgensen, president of the gardens, says there are about 400 gardeners currently who have their own plots. What they use their plots for is up to the gardener.
“Some people have well maintained gardens where they grow tons of produce while others use it as a place to enjoy the sunshine and for their dog to lie in a grassy area, “says Jorgensen.
However, there are certain rules and regulations when applying for a spot. A regular annual membership fee is $40 per plot, and a senior membership fee if you are over the age of 65 is $25 per plot. You must be a Boston resident and show proof of residency.
Other regulations include no barbecuing or grilling unless a city fire permit (and health permit if applicable) is obtained, no consumption of alcoholic beverages, and the gardeners are expected to help with park maintenance, administration and to attend at least one of the semi-annual meetings. Mostly, it is to be respectful of your neighbors.
Keeping in mind to be respectful to neighbors, there are certain structures or furnishings not allowed in the garden along with planting restrictions.
The Victory Garden is a nonprofit organization that runs solely on volunteers, donations and grants. It is a chance to get outdoors and to enjoy green space in the city.
The gardens are diverse along with the gardeners, who all speak different languages.
“We have gardeners who have been here since June and we have gardeners who have been here for 50 years,” says Jorgensen, “we have gardeners in their teens, and we have one who is 102.”
There are other gardens in Boston associated with urban or community farming. ReVision Urban Farm is a nonprofit that grows and sells local fresh produce to the community. Every season, ReVision Urban Farm distributes produce to members of the Farm Share Community Supported Agriculture program in the Greater Boston area. They also grow seedlings for urban and suburban gardeners and select the plant varieties that will be the most productive in the climate.
According to Farm Manager Todd Sandstrum, many people have started their own gardens with these seedlings.
ReVision began as a small grassroots effort to positively impact the lives of young homeless mothers and their children. It was a small garden in 1990 alongside the shelter for the homeless mothers that is now the ReVision Family Home. Now, they do work study programs with the women in the shelters.
Sandstrum says they have two sites that total about an acre of land. As for the food, it is mostly distributed to shelters. However, they also do a CSA for their farm stand, Boston University, as well as selling produce at Roslindale Farmers Market and the DotHouse Market.
“The most unique aspect of urban farming is the community. We get a lot of community members who volunteer,” Sandstrum says.
ReVision is trying to continue the momentum with community members by putting on events to help people view the garden to see where the food comes from.
Green City Growers is another organization aiming to educate people on where their food comes from. The company specializes in the design, installation, and maintenance of gardens, farms, and edible landscapes. Some of their clients have included developers, national urban farming projects, restaurants, architecture firms, even improving landscapes in senior living facilities.
Ecological landscaping (ecoscaping), a holistic approach to sustainable land management, is something else the company is involved in. The landscape design team can customize what you want your landscape to look like, along with rain gardens and pollinator friendly gardens.
Other than landscaping, the company is involved in food production and distribution. Some of the food service clients they serve are B.Good, Boston Convention and Events Center, Whole Foods Market in Lynnfield, Aramark, Osteria Posto, The Tasting Counter, The Seaport Hotel and Clover in Kendall Square.
When it comes to educating the public, Green City Growers hosts workshops, pop-ups or lectures at different events, people’s homes, workplaces, or schools.
President of Green City Growers Christopher Grallert says they are servicing about 14 to 15 Boston public schools and 10 to 15 other schools in surrounding cities. He says for children to get into that space, there is no better way of building teamwork and confidence. This also helps them eat healthier and learn where their food comes from.
“I think it’s a certain fundamental part of society that the community connection that people have had and how it has disappeared,” Grallert says, “We feel really strongly about being a transformational part of the food system and incorporating new technologies with old.”
There are many other urban gardens in the city along with education programs. Each one doing its part to bring awareness to the advantages of urban agriculture. The question is what still needs to be done to benefit the city of Boston or even the world.
According to the city of Boston’s Open Space Plan, the goal is to involve neighborhood organizations, residents and youths in planning, building, and maintaining community gardens. Along with supporting community-based initiatives to develop new gardens and improve existing ones and targeting neighborhoods where community garden improvements will help leverage other funding and support other community development initiatives.
“One hundred fifty years ago, all of humanity was directly connected in one way or another with their food system,”Grallert says.