SPRINGFIELD – The “Mason Square” neighborhood is a “food desert”.
A “food desert,” as defined by the United States Department of Agriculture, is an “urban neighborhood or rural town without steady access to fresh, healthy and affordable food.
With the absence of supermarkets and grocery stores, many residents turn to these fast food restaurants and convenience stores, to feed their families.
“If you have a dollar menu at McDonalds and I have $5, I know I can feed my family, compared to $5 at a grocery store,”
said Talib Toussaint Paskins, program coordinator at Gardening the Community, a local non-profit based in Springfield.
Gardening the Community was created in 2002, to help the community by providing it with fresh produce while teaching and encouraging youth to learn about agriculture and sustainability.
GTC has four lots in which it grows its produce, and a lot at Commerce High School, where students nourish and raise the vegetables (hot and mild peppers, kale, beans, mint, tomatoes and wild flowers) all located in close proximity to the Mason Square neighborhood.
Kay Lindsey, a junior at Commerce High School and a GTC member joined because of a friend who had a great experience. Since joining three months ago, Lindsey said that he has come to enjoy supporting his community.
His favorite vegetable is kale, because it is “good for all types of soups and it’s good protein,”said Lindsey. His friend, Exavier Lopez, prefers the peppers. Lopez determines which peppers are good for harvest by “feeling how soft it is and how it looks…if I wouldn’t use it, I wouldn’t let other people use it,” he said.
Diana Glybin, a special education teacher at Commerce, joins in on the fun and helps the students foster their green thumbs and their passion for gardening.
When talking about her involvement Glybin began smiling as she recalled shared memories at the garden. Glybin says other teachers and students are always inquiring about what’s growing in the garden and she always responds; “you can come any day at 3:30!”
In the spirit of GTC’s mission the students at Commerce gave back to the community by making soup, using ingredients from their garden and distributed the soup at a local homeless shelter.
In addition to its partnership with Commerce High School, GTC also sells their produce at the Mason Square Farmer’s Market, where produce is priced based on affordability, Paskins gave this example, “We understand that not everybody is rich and not everybody is poor, so we need to be able to be flexible in who we sell to and the prices that we set too,” and he added, “not everybody can afford $5 worth of vegetables, so you have to have compassion for that person and allow them to spend their $5 and maybe get $15 worth of vegetables.”
GTC has recently purchased a fourth lot, in which it hopes to continue to foster its mission of helping the community, “Our mission at GTC is to get fresh, affordable and local vegetables into our communities and to our residents, rather than quick and easy fast,” said Paskins.