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 [email protected] or visit the Cook Street Park garden Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon.

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