To some, the word “garden” juxtaposed with “inner city” seems to be an oxymoron. Inner cities are usually thought to be downtrodden, forgotten places where hope is lost. Throughout the US, there are organizations dedicated to changing that. Some of these have been in existence for more than a decade, while some are newer on the horizon. One of the latest to develop is the partnership between the USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University and the Massachusetts Horticultural Society to create an indoor garden in Boston’s Chinatown.
One of the primary ways to health is through good nutrition, and as Michelle Obama says, obesity is a national concern, with strong consideration for youth because habits are harder to break as you age. The Chinatown project is sponsored by Tufts’ Nutrition Research Center on Aging, but it is young people who staff and tend the garden to make it available to Chinatown’s inhabitants, many of whom are elderly. The focus of this development is an indoor garden and hands-on training and practice in growing vegetables. The benefit is increased focus on nutrition, and to raise awareness of how nutrient-rich foods can prevent chronic disease and help to maintain health.
Another initiative of gardens such as the Massachusetts Horticultural Society’s Garden to Table Program is growing produce for food pantries. Vegetables from the Chinatown indoor garden are donated to a Boston shelter which provides services and 700 meals a day for the homeless.
Moving from Boston’s Chinatown to a city 30 miles north, Lawrence, the need for community gardens in the inner city is equally strong. Lawrence has long been known as “the Immigrant City.” Over its history, it has been a blue-collar working class city dependent on immigrants and Lawrence is one of the poorest cities in New England. According to the 2009 US Census, its population is 71.1% Latino. Some people who live in Lawrence never travel outside of a one-block radius of their home, and therefore are not getting the nourishment that they need. Children who live in low-income communities are disproportionately overweight or obese. In the US, 32 percent of children fall into this category, but in Lawrence the number is closer to 50 percent.
A group that has been working towards environmental improvement and healthy food access in the area is Groundwork Lawrence (GWL). Their focus is on youth as well as employment and community initiatives and programs to empower its members and improve quality of life. One of their projects is Costello Farm, which is an urban farm that sells at farmer’s markets and brings food to the soup kitchen. It allows participants to grow their own gardens, from seedlings to food, and create community partnerships.
In inner cities, there is strong need for both excellent sources of food and education to ensure nourishment. Focus on “the green” can positively impact the health and well-being of our citizens, putting to action the principles in Michelle Obama’s program against obesity in a concrete way. Gardens can be a valuable part of that equation.
By Fern Remedi-Brown