Food & dining

A new garden blooms on Emmanuel College’s Roxbury campus

JOANNE RATHE/GLOBE STAFF
Abriano Melo, 9, works in the garden at the Notre Dame Campus of Emmanuel College’s Urban Food Project.
JOANNE RATHE/GLOBE STAFF
Jade Baker, 10, and Emmanuel student Emily Larkin divide a planting area.

Emmanuel College in Roxbury is in its second year of a project to bring nutritional education and gardening strategies to low-income Boston families through The Urban Food Project.

Last summer, when the program was in its inaugural year, it was helped off the ground by a $25,000 grant from the New Balance Foundation. That coincided with the opening of Emmanuel’s Notre Dame Campus in the Fort Hill/Highland Park neighborhood of Roxbury, where there is a seasonal garden. There is also a greenhouse on the school’s main campus. The community piece involves the fourth-grade students of Mission Grammar School and Nazareth Residence for Mothers & Children, both located in Roxbury.

The concept was hatched in 2012. A series of events formulated the idea, says Deirdre Bradley-Turner, director of Community Service + Service Learning. As she explains it, the school had an “alternative spring break focusing on food justice, we acquired the Notre Dame campus, and Dr. Silver’s food justice class.”

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That year, students who decided to take advantage of an unusual spring break program spent a week working with the Greater Boston Food Bank, in The Food Project’s gardens, and at Haley House Bakery Cafe in Roxbury.

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Adam Silver’s “Politics of Food” class was the last piece to fall into place. Silver, an assistant professor of political science, created a freshman honors seminar that turned into a catalyst for the gardening project. He says the class was “designed to be interdisciplinary,” and aimed to “explore an idea of food justice and security.” Students studied global and local food systems, nutrition, and the issues surrounding food access.

Silver says, “Boston itself is a food desert,” which the US Department of Agriculture defines as “urban neighborhoods and rural towns without ready access to fresh, healthy, and affordable food.” That leads to poor diets, and higher levels of obesity and other diseases. Silver saw the opportunity to team up with the school administration to turn what he was teaching into action.

Once the New Balance grant came in, the program began to take shape. Silver says the school intends it to be “sustainable and continual . . . and student organized and led as much as possible.” Silver and Bradley-Turner are the faculty advisers, but four student coordinators they hired would do the bulk of the work. One manages the gardening, two handle the relationship with the Mission Grammar School students, another works with the Nazareth Residence.

JOANNE RATHE/GLOBE STAFF
Emmanuel student Jonathan Rowe and professor Adam Silver work on flower beds.

Emily Larkin, a junior from Williamsburg, who took Silver’s class as a freshman and participated in the spring break project, was appointed the gardening coordinator. Larkin has been a champion of the project from the start, and both Silver and Bradley-Turner are quick to sing her praises. “She is really dedicated; she will actually stay on to work in the garden through the summer,” says Bradley-Turner. Larkin works closely with gardening consultant Patti Moreno (a Roxbury resident) to decide what gets planted.

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Moreno was brought on to help facilitate the planting. She and Larkin work with the other student coordinators and volunteers planting seedlings in the greenhouse for everything from tomatoes and perennial herbs to strawberries. “We really wanted plants that would bloom every year,” says Moreno.

On May 7 the seedlings were planted in the Notre Dame campus garden, where Larkin will be responsible for tending them through the summer. As keeper of the garden, she hopes “that it not be a one-year endeavor, but one that can sustain year after year,” that her dedication will perpetuate the program.

The project’s success, Moreno says, lies with a “cool student body that is really into it and wants to put the hours in.” The college is looking for more grants to keep the program alive, and will eventually need more students to maintain the garden and further the educational and community components of the project.

For now, the Urban Food Project is enjoying a successful first year. There are plans to “sell some of the seedlings to put the money back into the program,” says Bradley-Turner, and the college hopes that its relationships with Mission Grammar School and the Nazareth Residence will strengthen the community’s relationship with freshly grown food.

If the project continues, it has the potential to irrigate a small piece of the city’s food desert.

URBAN FOOD PROJECTwww.emmanuel.edu

Bethany Graber can be reached at bethany.graber@gmail.com.