Highlands Coalition

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.

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.