Backyard gardens are springing up in Bell Hill, a food-insecure Worcester neighborhood where access to fresh vegetables is limited by lack of a supermarket and transportation.
Neighborhood Gardens Increase Access to Fresh Food
“Backyard gardening is part of our strategy to combat obesity and encourage healthy eating,” said Ana Rodriguez, community liaison, UMass Memorial Community Relations. I knocked on doors to recruit families who agreed to water and weed the garden, and at the end of summer, share homegrown produce with neighbors. Immediately, six families signed up and more were on a waiting list. Worcester Technical High School built the raised bed gardens and the City of Worcester provided fresh soil. Families selected what they wanted to grow.”
A barrier to backyard gardening in Bell Hill is soil contamination— specifically lead from exterior paint on old housing stock. While gardening is done in raised beds, dust blown from the surrounding area, even in small yards, can make vegetables unsafe to eat. Therefore, soil testing is required at all home sites before gardens are established.
Backyard Gardening Is a Growing Success
“This project is an ideal extension to a successful community garden we started in nearby Grant Square Park through a partnership with UMass Memorial and the City,” added Amanda Debrusk, backyard garden assistant, of Regional Environmental Council (REC), a grassroots organization for environmental health and food justice. “By the end of summer 2014, we will have 20 backyard gardens in Bell Hill. REC staff and volunteers, with help from the Worcester Carpenters Union, will build the 4' by 12' boxes, offer free plants and be available for advice on methods and techniques. We build relationships and community through this food sharing effort.”
“We want to use the beds year-round by planting fall crops, like garlic, for harvest in the spring,” said Ms. Rodriguez. “The community gardens are amazing and have inspired people to have one at their own home. All of the families from our pilot program will continue to garden next year because of the beautiful fresh produce that can be found right in their backyard.”