David Gass

Lynn DPW hosts composting training seminar

David Gass, director of the Highland Coalition, plays violin at the Ford School garden.


LYNN — The Department of Public Works will be hosting a composting training at Cook Street Park today.

The training, scheduled for 11 a.m., will provide residents instructions to use the “Earth Machine,” a home composter available for purchase from the DPW for $25, thanks to funding from Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection.  

Representative Julia Greene will lead by showing how to use your food scraps, leaves, grass clippings, and more to make compost, or “black gold,” as some would call it.

Composting can cut down on your trash by up to 30 percent. It also improves garden soil and lowers your carbon footprint, according to the DPW.

At 12 p.m., there will be a potluck, sponsored by the Cook Street Park Community Garden and the Highlands Coalition, with some of the food actually coming from the garden.

Representative David Gass from the Highlands Coalition talked about the overarching goal for the community gathering, as well as the garden.

The garden has people from 10 countries growing food, he said. In some cases, the plants are untraditional, like amaranth, sweet and bitter leaves, callalou, okra, and navo.

It’s a true grassroots program hoping to untangle current problems in the area.

“We are taking back Cook Street Playground from the gangs and fighting,” Gass said. “The garden and new equipment from the city are replacing bad behavior with children, food, and families.”

Their plan is to do the same at High Rock Park.

Matt Demirs can be reached at mdemirs@itemlive.com.

Music of the world fills Lynn Heritage Waterfront Park

Jossue Giron, an 8-year-old mariachi singer performs at Saturday’s World Music Fest at Heritage State Park in Lynn. Photo by Paula Muller

By Adam Swift

LYNN — Music has power, whether it was born in the union halls of the early 20th century or on the coast of Africa centuries ago.

The Eighth Annual World Music Fest celebrated that power on Saturday at Lynn Heritage State Park.

The waterfront festival, hosted by the Highlands Coalition, Lynn Arts, and the Downtown Lynn Friends of Lynn Heritage State Park, is an opportunity for people from different cultures to come together and celebrate diversity as well as the ties that bind us all together, said David Gass, Highlands Coalition director.

“It’s all about life; it’s all about experience, from the lullabies to the African drummers that imitate the movements of the birds,” said Gass, who started the festival eight years ago.

While there are many opportunities in Lynn for ethnic and cultural groups to gather and celebrate their own heritage, the World Music Fest brings all those groups together to explore and experience the great cultural melting pot that is America at its best.

“For me, one of the great things about having the festival is that we live in a multicultural city. It’s a great way for people to enjoy the music and get to know each other,” said Leslie Greenberg, chairwoman of the Highlands Coalition Board.

This year’s festival was dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising in Ireland and to Joe Hill, the labor troubadour, who said “don’t mourn for me, organize.”

The music got off to a rousing start as John Hicks performed the music of Hill and the labor movement, breaking out the Wobblies (also known as the Industrial Workers of the World) songbook at one point.

For Gass, Greenberg and several other self-described old folkies, honoring the labor movement in Lynn, which holds a vital place in the history of unions in the country, was an obvious choice.

“These are songs that our mothers and fathers sang; these are movement songs,” said Gass, adding, “What kept Lynn alive was the labor movement. These are all of our favorite songs.”

While Hicks and his union songs hued most closely to the themes of the workers’ movement, each of the artists addressed the struggles and joys of their cultures when they hit the stage.

Also performing throughout the day were KAYA, presenting dances from Cambodia; the St. Mary’s Haiti Choir with its renditions of gospel and Haitian folk tunes; Puck Fair with Irish folk music and tales of the Easter Rising; Cape Cod African Dance and Drum; Jossue Giron, an eight-year-old mariachi star; Sylvester Yarpah singing songs from Liberia; and Julio Bare & Co.

KAYA is a youth leadership and development program at the Lynn YMCA.

“We are representing Cambodian culture with the magic scarf dance,” said Wanntha Sim Chanhdymany, the director of grants and volunteers for KAYA. Since it formed in 2009, she said KAYA has played numerous events throughout the city, but that it always makes it a point to contact Gass to perform in the annual World Music Fest.

Greenberg and Gass said one of the big goals of the festival is to educate as well as to entertain. Throughout the day, there were workshops including poetry with Elizabeth McKim, kora with Yokuba Diamante, leaf painting with Bob Levine, and dance with Marcy Newhall and Studio 6.

“We do not want to just do a bunch of songs and have people go home,” said Gass. “We want this to carry on to inspire people to play the music.”

For many of those in the audience, the festival exemplified many of the goals of a true community event.

“There’s great music, great people, and we get to support the Highlands,” said Natasha Megie-Maddrey.

Adam Swift can be reached at aswift@itemlive.com.

Planting seeds for change in Lynn

Abby Conner, a gardener at the community garden at the Cook Street Playground in Lynn, checks on an eggplant in the garden. Photo by Paula Muller

By Jessie Nocella

LYNN — From gang territory to a garden, a change is growing on Cook Street.

“There were several gangs that hung around here for years, way back when my son was a teenager,” said Leslie Greenberg, chairwoman of the Highlands Coalition Board. “Now, I’ve seen former gang members who are parents and they’re over there watering the garden and planting.”

Since the success of the 2008 community garden at Ford School, many more have popped up around the city. The Highlands Coalition and The Food Project worked together to use Cook Street Park, getting permission from the Lynn Park Commission. They then created a garden where plots could be rented to community residents for the season. Plants and seeds were donated from The Food Project and youth volunteers help to maintain the land and harvest crops. The Food Project also created a garden at the Ingalls school in 2005 and on Munroe Street in 2008, which continue to thrive.

“It’s this really cool relationship where they let us use their land and we get to have this really great opportunity for communities,” said Abby Conner, the community gardens network communicator for the Lynn Food and Fitness Alliance.

The locations are chosen to provide positive change and become a central point for cultural mixing, Conner said.

Hazel Keifer, Lynn urban agriculture manager at The Food Project, said money has been budgeted for dirt and wood to build the beds. Keifer said the gardens cost $700-$900 in supplies, with the biggest expense being compost.

In addition to the community gardens, The Food Project and Highlands Coalition helped residents build 25 individual gardens in one year.

“If people put in a request, have someone to manage the land and have permission to use the land, then we can come help build it,” Keifer said.

David Gass, director of the Highlands Coalition, worked with Greenberg to reinvent Cook Street. At the start of the project, a family behind the park gave Gass permission to use their roof water. Beyond the importance of affordable food, Gass encourages youth involvement and hands-on teaching of nutrition. Over the summer he started a program called Healthy Eating Youth Club (HEY) with KIPP Academy students, to teach better eating habits and community involvement.

“Children are the key thing to us because half the kids around 9-10 years old are overweight,” Gass said.

In 2014, there was a request for a garden to be created at Ames Playground on Strawberry Avenue. It has since blossomed.

For information on community involvement or how to reserve a plot, contact Lynncommunitygardens@gmail.com or visit the Cook Street Park garden Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon.

Workers have their May Day

Protesters begin to congregate at the Corner of Greene Street and Union Street in Lynn for the International Workers May Day March.


LYNN — More than 100 protesters took to the streets of Lynn on Sunday to support worldwide International Workers May Day.

The peaceful group marched a mile from the intersection of Union and Green streets to Lynn Commons, ending with a short rally.

Jack Damas, 14, of Lynn, said while his family is from Haiti, he was born in the U.S. May Day is his first protest and he came with friends.

“I want everyone to be equal and for everyone to have fair rights,” he said.

David Gass, director of the Highlands Coalition, a group that endorsed the event, said the marchers included immigrants and-low income workers. He said the goal of the march is make people aware of the inequality and discrimination immigrants face.

Gass, 71, of Lynn, said many people in the city spend about half of their income on rent. One of the purposes of the rally was to lobby for a $15 an hour minimum wage, which, he said, would help people keep pace with the cost of living.

Angela Arce, vice-president of the Essex County Community Organization (ECCO), said through an interpreter that she immigrated from Paraguay 17 years ago. The 42-year-old Salem resident said she came in search of opportunities and has two children, both U.S. citizens.

“I started a company,” she said through an interpreter. “We employ people. We’re fighting so immigrants can live and work in better conditions for just wages and so that undocumented immigrants can get drivers licenses so that everybody can drive in safety.”

Alexandra Pineros-Shields, ECCO’s executive director, said she’s from Spain, but has been in the U.S. for 47 years. The 52-year-old Salem resident said she came over when she was 4, after her parents decided to move.

Shields said ECCO, a network of congregations on the North Shore, is concerned about the rights of workers, particularly immigrants.

“All of the fights we fought for over the last century are slowly slipping away,” she said. “Our faith traditions tell us that everyone has dignity.”

Mother and daughter Mary Rosales, 50, and Tatiana Iraheta, 13, of Lynn, are facing foreclosure. Rosales is from El Salvador and came to the U.S. to escape the hardships faced during the country’s civil war. She said one of her brothers was killed. The two are working with Lynn United for Change to keep their home.

“It’s a human right to have a roof over your head,” Rosales said.

Jeff Crosby, president of the North Shore Labor Council and executive director of New Lynn Coalition, said support for workers is needed.

“This is a time when they’re trying to tear down the last few good jobs in America,” Crosby said. “That’s why we stopped at the Verizon offices to support their strike. We need union rights for immigrant workers.”

The local march, an annual event for about a decade, was organized by the ECCO, Lynn United for Change, Neighbor to Neighbor, New Lynn Coalition and Worker’s Center of Lynn.

Gayla Cawley can be reached at gcawley@itemlive.com. Follow her on Twitter @GaylaCawley

Lynn cooks up a garden

Kingasiatic Allah moves mulch into the Cook Street Park Community Garden in Lynn.


LYNN — Neighborhood pride is growing at Cook Street Park.

Residents are busy laying fresh soil for gardeners to begin spring planting at the playground’s Community Garden.

The Highlands Coalition, a neighborhood group whose mission is to improve the district, is hopeful that the new green space will replace the violence and gang activity that had overtaken the park, according to David Gass, director.

The coalition launched the park renovation in 2011 after a violent high school fight was caught on tape and went viral. The negative publicity was just what was needed to make positive change to the park, Gass said.

“Gangs burned a park slide here,” he said. “No-kids-land is what I called it. There was nothing for kids here.”

Gass said a new neighbor living next to the garden experienced a pair of armed robberies and wanted to move out of the neighborhood. Gass reassured him that the coalition would make it a better place.

When a home is broken into, the resident either buys a lock, a dog, a gun, or all three, Gass said. Instead, he said they should communicate with neighbors to understand what is happening on their streets.

By 2012, the group developed plans for a community garden to bring neighbors together. Interest started out slow with only 10 residents requesting a garden bed and only five showed up to start planting. Today, neighbors from the diverse neighborhood spend time growing together.

Several of the beds are rented by residents for $25.

Viviane Kamba, a Congolese immigrant, plants amaranth, a grain that provides more protein than wheat, barley and rye, Gass said. The Ouk family created a handmade trellis with twigs and plants a Cambodian garden, including long beans and ginseng.

One garden is maintained by a man from Somalia. Another family plants corn each year and has learned new techniques from other gardeners to grow it more effectively, he said.

The garden also provides children with the opportunity to learn about growing vegetables and healthy eating. About 15 children between the ages of 10 and 20 are hired and paid $2 an hour by the coalition and $8 by the city through the Youthworks program, a religious organization that encourages community work.

“We talk to the kids who are hanging out at the park and say ‘if you’re in school and you’re actually going to school, you can come work for us,’” said Kingasiatic Allah, a coalition member.

Allah said the program teaches the children how to grow vegetables, spend less money at the grocery store and eat healthier.

“We’ve got to keep the kids active,” he said. “If kids don’t have activity, they wind up in trouble. Kids are overworked at school, they’re stressed. That’s what leads to them not wanting to go to school and leads them to the streets.”

The coalition focuses on teaching the children about healthy eating habits. Signs are hung along the fence with witty sayings and facts about food, such as “the whiter the bread, the sooner you’re dead.”

This summer, the group hopes to launch Camp Creativity, a licensed after-school program and summer camp, to further its efforts.

Bridget Turcotte can be reached at bturcotte@itemlive.com. Follow her on Twitter @BridgetTurcotte.