Gardening the Community

I am working with Gardening the Community (GTC), a food justice organization in Springfield. It was started in 2002 by Ruby Maddox, a then-resident of Springfield, and now the Associate Director for the Miller-Worley Center for the Environment at Mount Holyoke College, and Betsy Corner, the former social justice coordinator for the Northeast Organic Farming Association. The program recruits and employs neighborhood youth to grow fruits and vegetables on abandoned and vacant lots in Springfield. The food is then sold at local markets and donated to food shelters.

In 2005, Springfield resident Kristen Brennan led GTC in fostering principles of sustainable living through biking produce to markets, using rain buckets to capture rain water for irrigation, and using more “people power” versus gas power to work the land. GTC continues to work with the city to expand the availability of urban garden space and promote urban agriculture.

I chose this project because I am passionate about food justice. During the summers, I work at a natural foods supermarket committed to providing healthy, organic, whole foods to the community. GTC served as an extension of this interest and it incorporates additional elements such as youth leadership development and building healthy, equitable communities through urban agriculture. My main role in the project concerns marketing and publicity. I manage the website, Facebook, and Twitter accounts to ensure that the community is regularly updated about the latest GTC news and upcoming events.

At the beginning of the semester my goal was to revamp the website design and update the content. We had a number of big fundraising events that required a lot of publicity so the website redesign took the backseat, but I will continue to work on it through the next semester. My longer-term goals include finding a more professional platform and format for the website, because it is currently a blog on WordPress.

My project has been coming along nicely. I have established a greater presence on social networks and managed to keep the blog updated regularly. We held our annual Harvest Celebration and Pancake Breakfast in the beginning of November, and the event sold out! I was responsible for keeping the website updated with information about the event and sending e-mail invitations and registration forms to our supporters, and we obviously had a great response. As I mentioned, the fundraisers meant that the more major web updates were put on hold, but I look forward to tackling that later this month once our big fundraising efforts are complete.

I have not run into any major difficulties in accomplishing my goals. It is simply the nature of a nonprofit with a small staff to have to prioritize our tasks, and we are successful in completing those which are most pertinent. We introduced a #GTCSpringfield twitter tag at our pancake breakfast so that our attendees could live-tweet the event and a fair number did so! It is always encouraging when the community members participate and support our new efforts.

I have done a great deal of prioritizing and getting the most immediate tasks done. I usually have to update new material to all of our web platforms before I can update the older existing material. This semester, our fundraisers needed the most attention. I worked on outreach and maintaining an organized spreadsheet of registrants as well as our entire donor database. I have gotten valuable experience working with databases that I didn’t even expect! I am constantly redirecting my approach so that I can focus my energy on those tasks which need to be completed immediately.

One of my larger goals in becoming a CBL Fellow in Springfield was to become more familiar with the community and its needs. I attended Springfield Bound, a number of workshops through GTC, and will attend an Undoing Racism workshop. The more I learn about it, the more concern I have for the city of Springfield, and the closer I feel to the community.

I don’t get to work with the youth often, but when I do, I really enjoy it. They are mostly high school students working with GTC, and they bring a fresh and entertaining perspective to things. I love seeing other youth who are concerned about food justice issues as much as I am. I also love seeing the encouraging responses we’ve gotten to our fundraising efforts, and being able to enjoy the wonderful events we’ve spent months planning is definitely a bonus. It is only frustrating that change doesn’t happen faster!

We are collaborating on initiatives to bring a grocery store to Springfield, as the city is considered a food desert (a term for an urban area in which it is difficult to buy affordable or good-quality fresh food), as well as working to develop a plan to make Springfield more accommodating for bicyclists and pedestrians. There is so much work to be done to make Springfield a more sustainable community, and it is a pleasure to be a part of these valuable efforts.

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