Longmeadow Library Patrons Support Springfield’s Gardening the Community Organization

MassLive, August 23, 2017, by Christine White

Every summer, as part of its summer reading program, Storrs Library runs a community service project. This year the library is collecting needed items for a food justice organization in Springfield called Gardening the Community.

Children’s librarian Jean Maziarz described the food nonprofit’s goal: to provide fresh produce to a part of Springfield that has few good food options, while also mentoring neighborhood teens.

“It was the young people who came to the library to do a presentation for us,” she said, “and we were so impressed with them.”

Started in 2002, Gardening the Community’s mission is to address the food security needs of Mason Square, one of the most economically challenged places in the state, and an area defined by the United States Department of Agriculture as a “food desert.”

Since its inception, it has created and cultivated urban vegetable gardens on former vacant lots, and sold its produce at affordable prices to the neighborhood.

At the same time, an important part of its work is with local youth, training them to grow food, market and deliver it, run farm stands and the farm share program, and serve as members of the board of directors.

This summer, 25 youth are working for the organization, which also gets assistance from 400 volunteers annually, and harvests 3,000 pounds of organic produce on three small lots.

The display set up in the library features a large wheelbarrow that Maziarz hopes will be overflowing by summer’s end. Small paper pails and shovels on a nearby table list items the Springfield organization needs to create and cultivate its urban gardens, and to carry out its important work with neighborhood teens.

“Everything in the wheelbarrow, as well as the wheelbarrow itself, will be donated to the food nonprofit,” she explained.

In addition, Gardening the Community recently acquired the use of a vacant lot with contaminated soil. The only thing they can grow there is fruit trees, which, surprisingly, are not harmed by contaminants. The library staff has pledged to donate one or two fruit trees as long as the youngsters enrolled in the summer reading program do their part.

Each reader receives one “play dollar” for every hour they read, and they have a choice about how to spend those dollars. They can buy something from the library’s “store,” they can buy a raffle ticket to win a prize, or they can donate their dollar to the fruit tree fund.

So far, the fund is doing well and the jar is nearly filled with donated dollars.

But there is still plenty of room for needed supplies in the wheelbarrow. Anyone donating items from the list can write their name on a paper vegetable and display it on a wall in the lobby to show their generosity to the program.

Anne Richmond, co-director of Gardening the Community, expressed her gratitude to Storrs Library. “We were very excited when the library … reached out to partner with us. …,” she said. “The items (being donated) will help our efforts to organize healthy food access for our neighbors while building the leadership (skills) of Springfield youth.”

One such youth is Danielle Brown, now a junior at American University in Washington, D.C., who first joined Gardening the Community in the eighth grade.

“I learned that what really takes place on a few abandoned lots … is more than just producing food – it is also about the growing of youth participants and building a healthy and strong community,” she said. “(It) gave me the confidence to step out of my comfort zone and take on leadership positions … It has made a huge difference in my life.”

For more information about how to contribute to the community service drive at Storrs Library, visit the library at 693 Longmeadow St., Longmeadow. For more information about Gardening the Community, visit