Urban Community Gardens Flourish in Holyoke

The April 2008 issue of The Atlantic describes the benefits of urban gardens in Holyoke. As in Northampton, the harvest goes beyond food to include education and community-building. A few excerpts:

A Papaya Grows in Holyoke

…Holyoke [is] fertile ground for “urban agriculture”–the successor to the still-flourishing community-garden movement, which itself grew out of World War II victory gardens. In the late 1960s, in the wake of urban renewal’s wholesale razing, community gardens cleaned up blighted lots, curbed vandalism, and gave people who had never had one a say in how their neighborhoods were run. Today, according to the American Community Gardening Association, there are more than 17,000 community gardens all over the country. The urban-agriculture movement looks for ways people can make money on what they grow (seldom a focus of community gardens) and puts an emphasis on training youth to strengthen their communities. And it gives people access to fresh vegetables in “food deserts” where the only oases are gas stations and convenience stores…

“We have nine community gardens in some of the toughest neighborhoods in the city if not the country,” Ross said, “and the incidence of vandalism has been almost zero.” Joel Cortijo, a colleague along for the tour, said simply, “It’s ours.”

…Grandfathers and fathers, many of whom grew up on farms in Puerto Rico, teach schoolchildren how to grow peppers and eggplants and experiment in greenhouses on the farm with exotics like papayas and avocados, to see what they can get to grow in the New England climate…

Nutritionists in the sunny teaching kitchen of the health center, which is housed in a splendidly renovated furniture store downtown, show patients how to reduce the fat in traditional Puerto Rican dishes…

…[men] use the gardens as social clubs at night. On summer weekends, there are music festivals on a bandstand built from foraged wood…

See also:

Springfield Republican: “Victory gardens fight price wars” (6/24/08)
In Northampton, which has a community garden of more than 400, 20-foot
square plots on the grounds of the former Northampton State Hospital,
competition for the few spots that come open each March is intense. The
waiting list is currently 30 to 40 names long and growing, said
Christine Kostek, who maintains it for the city’s Recreation

Gazette: “As food, other costs rise, more stake hopes on home gardens” (6/14/08)
According to the Associated Press, W. Atlee Burpee & Co., the
nation’s largest seed company, has sold twice as many seeds this year
compared to last year…

For [home gardner Sigalit] Tornovish of Leverett, reducing her family’s
food and gas expenses is a serious goal. ‘I had to drive often to the
food stores, so by growing my own things I save money on gas and I
don’t waste,’ Tornovish said…

Among those trying to be more resourceful and experiment with backyard
gardening is Karen Bellavance-Grace of Northampton and her neighbors.
[Eds: Bellavance-Grace is an aide to Mayor Clare Higgins.]

The group of six families, 20 people in all, is tending a new plot in
Bellavance-Grace’s backyard at 19 Church St., a small street that runs
west from King Street above downtown…

…group members are strengthening their street’s sense of community and producing food…

CommonWealth Magazine: “Urban greenery can bring better health, more attractive neighborhoods, and even safer streets”
[A study in Baltimore by Morgan Grove of the US Forest Service]
found that neighborhoods with higher tree cover had stronger social
connections, and residents had a significantly lower desire to move
away, presumably because trees increase the attractiveness of the area.

landmark Harvard University study of a dozen Chicago neighborhoods
found only one variable that explained lower crime rates in otherwise
virtually identical communities: the extent of social cohesion…

Greening Smart Growth: The Sustainable Sites Initiative
…a study comparing police reports of
crime and extent of tree and grass cover found that the greener a
building’s surroundings, the fewer total crimes were reported.

Randal O’Toole: “The Folly of ‘Smart Growth'”
space in valuable locations such as people’s backyards, urban parks,
and golf courses will be transferred to less valuable locations such as
private rural farms that are unavailable for recreation.

The New Draft Sustainable Northampton Plan: Balancing Compact Growth Against Taxes, Urban Greenspace, Homeowner Preferences
objective of the Plan is to “implement ideas for maximizing density on
small lots”. (p.16) It calls for the City to “consider amending zero
lot line single family home to eliminate 30′ side yard setback”. (p.69)

Pictures of Northampton Streets at Various Densities