An educational garden for everyone: the WE Garden!

By Josie Shagwert

Today, access to and knowledge about good, healthy food is essential. We live in a day and age where world hunger rates are increasing, obesity is a national epidemic, meals mainly consist of cheaply manufactured ingredients, meat and vegetables are chemically produced, and the traditional method of growing food has become the expensive alternative. We must take back our right to good, healthy food that nourishes our body rather than poisons it. The Worcester Educational (WE) Garden is a simple step in the right direction.

Aside from acting as a traditional community garden, the WE garden is a place where community members can check out creative urban gardening ideas that they can then use to grow fresh produce at home. The idea is to get people to start growing in spaces they thought they could not: front and back porches, driveways, indoors, wherever a plant can get some light. It is a space that encourages homegrown meals cultivated without the use of pesticides.

The space that now houses the WE Garden was originally slotted to be an extension of the current staff parking lot behind the Worcester Public Schools Fanning Administration Building. When Christa Drew, former Project Manager for Hunger-Free & Healthy (an initiative of the Health Foundation of Central Massachusetts) got wind of this idea, she approached the administrators at the Fanning building to talk about transforming the use of the space.

Stacie Brimmage, Educational Garden Coordinator for the Regional Environmental Council (REC), was hired with a team of four youth to plan and construct the garden. The youth were graduates of REC’s YouthGROW program, which gave them many organic urban gardening skills. During the early spring, they researched creative garden methods, sketched several garden plans, and incorporated everyone’s ideas into the final garden design.

In late May, ground breaking began quite literally with the smashing of the ground posts that remained from the playground that was mostly removed several years before. Within the following two months several YouthGROW graduates and many YouthGROW participants constructed five 12 foot long wooden raised beds, an arbor, an herb garden, two growing columns, a cinder block garden, and many raised beds carved out of a gigantic heap of compost.

Ms. Brimmage says, “It was very hard work building and growing a garden all at the same time. We began planting pretty late and took a chance on many of the veggies.” Lailah Almazraawi, 16, a student at University Park Campus School who worked with Ms. Brimmage, came to appreciate her hard work and is quite impressed with the end product. Even with the late planting, the garden is flourishing with tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, cauliflower, winter squash, cabbage, kale, collards, and hopefully some late season eggplant. With almost all of the plots in REC’s city-wide network of 40 community gardens filled, the WE garden is another opportunity for those who don’t have space to currently experience some fall gardening and definitely sign up for next year’s growing season.

Eliot Coleman, author of “The New Organic Grower” once said “The culture of growing and eating good, healthy, diverse food is at the heart of social, political, and economic transformation.” Let us begin to build a sustainable food system that transforms our taste buds along with the world.

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