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Posts Tagged ‘community’

Photo: Jim Davis/Globe Staff
John Fallon gathers squash at the 8,000-square-foot traffic island in Beverly Farms.

Today my friends surprised me with a bag of apples from a tree in their yard. They are not farmers, but many nonfarmers are getting into growing things these days. Some gardeners are growing especially to share.

Consider the Beverly, Mass., man who appropriated a traffic island for a community garden.

John Laidler reports at the Boston Globe, “Growing up in Beverly Farms, John Fallon developed a talent for cultivating vegetables by helping his Irish immigrant father tend the family’s backyard garden. A half-century later, Fallon is drawing on those farming skills — refined through many years of his own gardening — to help improve the lives of people in need.

“Since 2016, Fallon has been growing vegetables on a traffic island in Beverly Farms and donating them — together with vegetables from his own garden — to local food pantries, homeless shelters, and other organizations that serve low-income families.

“In the first four years of his nonprofit operation, Fallon annually harvested and donated on average 3,000 pounds of produce. This year, in response to COVID-19, he expects to raise that volume to about 5,000 pounds. …

“Now retired as a test engineer in the semiconductor industry, Fallon, 61, cited the need to promote economic and social justice as a motivation for his philanthropic farming. …

“ ‘Everyone should help those less fortunate than them,’ said Fallon, who experienced losing a job himself when he was laid off from his longtime semiconductor job in 2007.

“Fallon’s philanthropy began in 2014 when he donated surplus tomato plants from his home garden to a farming program for inner-city children. …

“In 2016, Fallon came up with the idea of growing crops on the idle traffic island on Hale Street. The state Department of Transportation, which owns the island, authorized him to farm the land for free provided he donate any crops he raised to charity. …

“His 8,000-square-foot Beverly Farms Gardens produces tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, summer squash, regular and golden zucchini, eggplant, broccoli, and acorn and butternut squash.

“Fallon does all the growing and harvesting himself, with occasional help from volunteers, including students from Landmark School in Beverly, and Gordon College’s women’s soccer team. …

“Although his program is self-funded, Fallon has received donations from individuals, local businesses, and churches. The Farms-Prides Community Association helped him purchase compost last year and plans a fund-raising effort to assist him with other expenses.

“ ‘I have watched John over the last five years turn a barren plot of land into a lush, productive garden supplying food to needy families,’ Rick Lord, the association’s president, said by e-mail. …

“Fallon hopes he can inspire others to do similar work. … ‘My vision would be for each town or city to set aside 4 acres, whatever it takes to feed the homeless in their area,’ he said.”

More at the Boston Globe, here. Another take on the story is at the Salem News, here.

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When residents of Holyoke, Colorado, saw local businesses struggling in the pandemic, they stepped up.

Sometimes it’s hard to know where to start when many problems call for attention at the same time. In one small Colorado town, the almost unimaginable generosity of the community helped neighbors — and built a lifetime bond.

Cathy Free reports at the Washington Post, “Brenda Hernandez Ramirez thought she might have to close the doors of her family’s small-town Mexican restaurant for good when she was temporarily forced to shut down in March because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“With bills piling up and no income, ‘we weren’t prepared for the challenges that covid-19 brought,’ said Ramirez, who owns Taqueria Hernandez in Holyoke, Colo., population 2,313.

“When she and her employees heard in late March that a Help Holyoke campaign had been started to assist small businesses, Ramirez said she felt grateful, thinking she might get a few hundred dollars to help pay her utilities.

“Two months later, when Holyoke Chamber of Commerce Director Holly Ferguson stopped by with a check, Ramirez was shocked to learn that people in her farming community had donated their government stimulus checks and dipped into their bank accounts to raise $93,592 — enough to help every business in town affected by the shutdown.

“In addition to about $2,000 to pay her restaurant bills, Ramirez also received smaller checks for each of her six employees.

‘We were overwhelmed with emotion,’ said Ramirez, 24. ‘Feeling our community’s support during the pandemic gave us the ambition to keep on going. I’m beyond thankful.’

“The Help Holyoke fund came about after Tom Bennett, president of the town’s First Pioneer National Bank, wondered if people might be willing to part with the $1,200 stimulus checks that most had received from the federal government.

“Even during normal times, it’s not easy to run a business in a small town, he said. … ‘Having our restaurants, bars, salons, the gym and movie theater shut down was unprecedented. You start thinking, “What if that was me?” ‘

“Bennett contacted Ferguson, Phillips County Economic Development Director Trisha Herman and Brenda Brandt, publisher of the Holyoke Enterprise, and arranged a meeting at the newspaper’s office to talk about his idea to help save their downtown. …

“The group members quickly developed a plan: They would get the word out about Help Holyoke through the Enterprise, the local radio station and social media, plus enlist high school students to help call everyone in town. Once the donations were collected, they would cut checks based on how many employees each business owner had to lay off. …

“Karen Ortner, a family and consumer sciences teacher at Holyoke High School, rounded up members of the Family Career and Community Leaders of America club she advises and put the teens to work calling every household in Holyoke.

“ ‘We split up the phone book with two other student organizations — the Future Business Leaders of America and the Future Farmers of America,’ she said. ‘Almost everyone the kids called said they’d give what they could.’ …

“ ‘This is a supportive, tightknit town,’ added FCCLA President Amy Mackay, 17. ‘Everybody knows everybody and they knew exactly who that money would be going to in the end.’ …

“ ‘This was the best way we could make a difference,’ said Nancy Colglazier, 67, executive director of Holyoke’s Melissa Memorial Hospital Foundation. … Colglazier and her husband, Harvey Colglazier donated one of their $1,200 checks to the fund after seeing how abandoned their downtown had become, she said. …

“Said chamber director Ferguson, ‘Some gave $10, some gave $100 and little kids came to my office to empty their piggy banks,’ she said. ‘Everyone did what they could and showed overwhelming compassion.’ …

“In addition to receiving about $3,500 from Help Holyoke, Veronica Marroquin, 44, who runs Veronica’s Hair and Nail Salon, also received checks from customers who wanted to pay for the haircuts they missed due to covid-19, she said.

“ ‘I’d been really worried, and I got teary-eyed when I saw everybody’s generosity,’ Marroquin said. ‘I’m close friends with my clients — they’re family. But this took it to a new level,’ she said. ‘None of us will forget their kindness.’ ” More here.

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Photo: Gareth Henderson
Messages of hope fill a window at the Bernard General Store in Barnard, Vermont.

When you’re feeling down, it’s a sign of health to look for comfort, which actually can be found in many places. Some people find it in phone calls to distant friends. Others find it in reading, music, exercise, or nature; in donating to people worse off or in watching children playing and laughing.

Gareth Henderson writes for the Christian Science Monitor that in Small Town America, some people are finding comfort at the general store.

“As COVID-19 restrictions were tightening in mid-March,” Henderson writes, “Jillian Bradley and Joe Minerva made a big decision: They pledged to keep the doors of the Barnard General Store open, no matter what.

“Now the Barnard store has a grocery home-delivery system supported by volunteers, and they also offer curbside pickup. But it’s been a long haul for the store, in this remote Vermont town of about 900 people, located a half-hour from the nearest grocery establishment.

‘Most days we are working 10 to 12 hours a day, but we are happy to do it for our community,’ Ms. Bradley says. …

“Country stores across the U.S., from New England to the South and the Midwest, are the heartbeat of their communities, often standing in the same spot for generations, growing up with the town.

“Eight years ago, the Barnard store closed for about a year but came roaring back after a community trust with hundreds of local members raised the funds to save the business. It reopened in 2013, with Ms. Bradley and Mr. Minerva as the new owners. The community simply would not let the store fail. …

“These Vermont stores have become essential food hubs. With most country store buildings closed during Vermont’s state of emergency – which was extended beyond May 15 – online ordering and curbside pickup has become the trend. Such is the case a 40-minute drive south at the South Woodstock Country Store, which has been running its curbside operation since early April. Around noon each Friday, co-owner Simi Johnston, donning her mask, puts out brown paper bags with grocery orders, each labeled with the customer’s name for pickup.

“For Ms. Johnston, the main focus is continuing to serve the community while keeping everyone safe. The store closed to the public in late March, two days before the state required restaurants to shut down.

“The entire operation is sanitized, and the store tries not to touch deliveries for 24 hours. The first week of curbside, the store saw 20 orders – which is nothing like being fully open.

“ ‘It’s a huge hit, for sure, but we’re definitely hoping there’ll be a lot of understanding from everyone around that,’ Ms. Johnston says. …

“ ‘The reason we run the country store is because we care about our community,’ she says. ‘Without it, South Woodstock is very different. Closing the doors of the country store, for myself and my staff, was surprisingly emotional.’

“With Vermont’s unemployment rate soaring to more than 20% during the pandemic, many stores are also finding a way to give back, even while they themselves struggle. In Craftsbury, which sits an hour south of the Canadian border in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, businesses have joined forces to set up a pop-up food pantry. The Craftsbury General Store put out a call for donations, and they came in fast.

“ ‘There’s been a lot of generosity in that realm,’ says co-owner Kit Basom.

“At the store, the doors are closed to the public, but they’re doing business seven days a week, filling online and phone orders for curbside pickup. The store’s owners have added a third person to help with phones, and everyone is on deck to be a ‘personal shopper.’ …

“The Craftsbury store has also added a ‘virtual tour’ on its website, so customers can browse the shelves digitally. The staff regularly updates an online list of items people can order in bulk – think flour, rice, or pasta.

“ ‘We’re moving a lot more product from our grocery section than we ever did before,’ Ms. Basom says.

“For many here, these stores are a lifeline holding the fabric of the community together. There is growing concern about the warmer months, from May to October, when these small village stores usually make the majority of their annual income. Though it’s been on their minds, Ms. Bradley from the Barnard store says she is confident they will find a way to make it.

“ ‘It’s sink or swim time and there is no way we will let ourselves sink,’ she says.”

More at the Christian Science Monitor, here.

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Photo: Bank of America
Nonprofit Haley House uses food and community ties to provide job training and to revitalize neighborhoods. When it was closed 11 months for reflection, it was sorely missed in Dudley Square, now Nubian Square.

There’s a nonprofit gathering place in Boston’s Roxbury section where food and mission come together. But when persistent financial losses seemed to threaten its future, fans far and wide worried.

In December, Kay Lazar reported at the Boston Globe, “The little bakery that could is making a comeback.

“When Haley House Bakery Cafe in Roxbury, a bustling eatery and beloved community gathering place, closed its doors in January [2019], its executive director vowed it wasn’t goodbye. It was a timeout to figure out how to make the grand social experiment in Dudley Square financially sustainable. Since its opening in 2005, it never broke even.

“Now the cafe, known for providing job training for former prisoners and hosting community discussions, poetry slams, live music, and community dinners, is planning to reopen in mid-December. It will feature a new menu with an international flair (and some reimagined old favorites). …

“Pivotal to its sustainability, says Bing Broderick, the cafe’s executive director, is its new open-book approach. The restaurant’s financial information is being shared with workers, everyone from the cashier to the dishwasher, and each is being trained to be an efficiency expert. They’ll learn how seemingly little things, such as food waste or showing up late for work, affect the entire operation. Employees will have a say in menu pricing and taste-testing new dishes.

‘It’s very empowering if everyone understands how they can help the success of the business and lead to a better organization overall,’ Broderick said. …

“All food assembly will be moved to the kitchen to free up more space for its legendary live performances, as well as for private events, such as wedding receptions and corporate meetings that Broderick hopes will help them bridge the financial gap. …

“The meals will be bowl-based, with customers choosing a base of grits, home fries, mixed salad greens, or rice, with a pick of protein options — including vegetarian offerings — and a sauce topping. The new recipes will reflect the culturally diverse Dudley Square [now Nubian Square] area, including the bakery’s workers, with African- and Caribbean-influenced sauces and spices. …

“The process of redesigning the menu has featured some fascinating in-house discussions among the bakery’s international staff, [new general manager Misha Thomas] said.

“ ‘It’s been cool to get their thoughts,’ she said. ‘Everyone has an idea of how spicy things are supposed to be.’ …

“One thing that will not be changing is Haley House’s social mission. Founded in 1966 as a provider of food and shelter for the homeless in the South End, Haley House, the bakery’s nonprofit parent company, uses food and community ties to provide job training and help revitalize neighborhoods. … The meal and training programs went on hiatus after the bakery closed last winter, but Broderick said they will be bringing them back.

“Also returning will be cultural events in the evening, from jazz and history to poetry and movies, all offering a beacon in a community that has weathered some tough times and frustrating one-step-forward-two-steps-back revitalization efforts.

“ ‘The arts and cultural programming at the cafe was very much its identity and community ownership, too,’ Broderick said.”

More here.

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Photo: Peter Yeung
One African country has made impressive strides in reducing the child mortality rate.

Sometimes it’s the poorest countries in the world that lead the way in solving a problem. Recently I learned that Rwanda, for example, is on track to be the first country to wipe out cervical cancer, thanks to its massive roll-out of HPV vaccine.

And as Peter Yeung reports at National Public Radio (NPR), Mali has drastically cut child mortality rates.

“Imagine a world in which pregnant women and little kids get regular home visits from a health worker — and free health care,” Yeung writes. “That’s the ground-breaking approach that’s being adopted in one of the world’s poorest countries: the West African nation of Mali.

“And it’s already underway in a pilot program. Nana Kadidia Diawara is one of many community health workers who do daily rounds through the sprawling, dusty streets of Yirimadio, a neighborhood on the outskirts of the capital city of Bamako. …

” ‘I know everyone in my area, and it’s a system that works very well,’ she says, while measuring the skinny arm of a child to check for signs of malnutrition. The child lives in a one-story concrete compound that is home to ten families.

“A nurse who’s joined the country’s cadre of community health workers, Diawara visits each of the homes in her designated area, which contains roughly 1,000 people, at least twice a month. She diagnoses, treats and refers patients. It’s part of a free door-to-door health-care plan that began in Yirimadio in 2008 as a trial by the government.

“When data from a seven-year trial was compiled by a team including researchers from the University of California, they found that child mortality for kids under age 5 in Yirimadio dropped by an astounding 95%, according to findings published last year in BMJ Global Health. …

“Now the program will be extended to the entire country. This spring, President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta announced a target date of 2022 for nationwide coverage — at a cost of $120 million. This localized, free health care for pregnant women and children under age 5 could help the West African nation meet the U.N. Millennium Development Goals. A key factor will be the provision of community health care workers who’ll be trained to do the door-to-door work. …

“Astan Koné, a 28-year-old mother of two in Yirimadio, [offers praise]. During Mali’s hot season last year – which regularly exceeds 100 degrees Fahrenheit – one pregnant relative was diagnosed with stomach ulcers.

” ‘It makes me very happy that the government will do that for the rest of the country,’ says Koné. ..

“[Currently] Mali’s planned reforms rely on external funding, secured with help from the Clinton Health Access Initiative, to supplement government spending. But there is no guarantee this supplemental funding will last in future decades, and Mali will need to find a long-term solution that may involve restructuring its budget. …

“The key to long-term success, according to [Robert Yates, an advocate for universal health care coverage at the U.K.-based think tank Chatham House,] will be political support – which Mali already has – and a long-term funding plan. ‘Clearly countries need more public finances to do it,’ he says. ‘But it’s perfectly feasible – by allocating a greater proportion of the budget to the health sector.’

“The cost of the Mali’s reforms, averaging $8 per person a year, could reasonably be covered by what the region’s governments are already spending on healthcare, Yates believes. …

“Community health workers — who in Mali are trained for at least a year and are able to carry out basic medical procedures — are so important.

” ‘The leading causes of maternal, newborn and child death are curable,’ says Dr. Ari Johnson, a medical doctor and co-founder of Muso. The nongovernmental organization, which aims to end preventable deaths, has supported the trials in Yirimadio with staffing and training. ‘Diseases like malaria and newborn sepsis can kill within hours. … But in status quo health-care systems, poor patients face many barriers that delay their access to care: fees they can’t afford to pay, distance they cannot travel to the nearest provider.’

“Back in Yirimadio, one 6-month-old girl in a white dress calmly awaits treatment on her father’s lap under the shade of a mango tree. ‘She is suffering,’ says Naba Fané of his daughter, who has pain when urinating. Community health worker Diawara writes the family a referral to the local health clinic in a matter of minutes.”

More at NPR, here.

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Photo: http://www.mlive.com/
Seitu Jones, a St Paul, Minnesota, artist who teaches urban food systems at the University of Minnesota is behind the community meal that won an art award.

Minnesota is home to many cutting-edge artistic endeavors, and the one described by Jim Harger at mlive.com is no exception. It’s neighborhood picnic as work of art.

“The ArtPrize Nine jurors — each of them experts in art — went for a neighborhood picnic in awarding the $200,000 juried grand prize for ArtPrize Nine.

” ‘Heartside Community Meal,’ an outdoor meal for 250 guests in Heartside Park on Sept. 23, was entered by Seitu Jones, a Saint Paul, Minnesota, artist who teaches urban food systems at the University of Minnesota.

” ‘This is a project that came out of love,’ said Jones after the award was announced on Friday, Oct. 6.

“The meal, served on a 300-foot-long table in Heartside Park, was aimed at engaging residents of the mixed-income neighborhood with each other over a table of locally produced foods. …

” ‘Seitu’s work speaks to some of the key issues in America now,’ [juror Gaetane] Verna said. ‘Access to food, access to community and people being able to create a space of conversation, exchange and synergy for everyone. He speaks to what is important in the context of the “now” in his practice, not just the ability to paint or draw.’

“Juror Scott Stulen, director and president of Philbrook Museum of Art in Tulsa, Oklahoma, nominated ‘Heartside Community Meal,’ saying he was struck by the event, where

‘people were sitting down and talking to people they would never talk to otherwise.’ …

“Inviting residents of condos and luxury apartments to dine with homeless residents who live beneath overpasses was a challenge for both groups, Jones said.

“Guests, both rich and poor, were moved by the experience, said Jones, who declared, ‘Of course this is art!’ when asked about the artistic nature of the big meal.”

More here.

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Photo: Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe
Malika MacDonald is director of the Amal Women’s Center, which provides shelter for Muslim women and children in need of temporary housing.

When I was working at the central bank, we had a Hubert Humphrey Fellow visit us from Bahrain. One aspect of America she was studying was homelessness. She said there was no homelessness in her country. She said families would never let it happen; they would take people in.

Having no way to know whether that was true in every case, I was nevertheless intrigued. Was it something about the culture in a Muslim country?

One thing I do know is that in this country, alas, Muslim women and children like other women and children, sometimes find themselves in need of temporary housing. That was the impetus for a new center in Boston, the brainchild of an Egyptian-American college student.

Lisa Wangsness wrote about the initiative at the Boston Globe. Here is the part of the article that touched me the most.

“The project began six years ago, when Mona Salem, then a 20-year-old Egyptian-American college student, was trying to help a young Muslim friend who wanted to escape a foster home where she felt unsafe.

“Salem thought her friend would feel most comfortable in a Muslim-run shelter for women, but soon discovered none existed in Boston. So she began raising money to start one, and teamed up with [Malika MacDonald, the national director of the Islamic Circle of North America Relief USA’s Transitional Housing Network.] …

“Donations poured in from every direction. Dishes and pots and pans for the kitchen arrived from families affiliated with the Framingham and Wayland mosques. A man offered his Home Depot credit card to pay for lighting. Various groups and individuals sponsored each of the bedrooms, furnishing them with bright-colored bedding and art for the walls.

“Salem said she was near tears when she saw the finished house the other day.

“ ‘That place was a dump when we first got there, and now it’s beautiful — absolutely beautiful,’ she said. ‘That says a lot about . . . how strong we are as a community to help one another.’

“Help arrived from beyond the local Muslim community as well. An artist in Texas sent an Arabesque Moroccan ceiling medallion for the living room. A board member of the interfaith group Kids4Peace Boston donated a lacquered dining table and banquette. The founder of a planned shelter for transgender people in Indiana sent along bathroom towels, MacDonald said.”

I suspect many of those donors know what it’s like to feel different and look for comfort.

More at the Boston Globe, here.

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Attempts to improve housing for low-income people have often destroyed a sense of community. That’s eminently clear in Robert Kanigel’s new biography of Jane Jacobs, an activist who helped to end the construction of the large complexes known as the “projects.”

So there is some irony in a new Global Oneness film about a 70-year-old housing project that probably once destroyed a neighborhood but has since created its own sense of community. Today it is threatened with what sounds like very pleasant improvements.

Life is complicated.

The Global Oneness Project has interviewed Yesler Terrace residents and created a film to spark discussion of the pluses and minuses of revitalization.

Even the Walls is a short documentary about the multi-generational residents living within Yesler Terrrace, a public-housing neighborhood in downtown Seattle grappling with the forces of gentrification.

“For over 70 years, Yesler has been home to thousands of Asian, Asian American, African, African American, Native American, Hispanic, and Caucasian residents. The 30-acre property is being redeveloped quickly and the residents are being forced to make a decision — collect their memories and belongings and leave, or return to a place they know well, but do not recognize due to heavy reconstruction.

Even the Walls chronicles the intimate stories and experiences from the residents of Yessler and defines the human connection to home and community.”

The film is here. Lesson plans for teachers are here. And the good intentions of the City of Seattle are described here.

Photo: Seattle Housing
In an organic 70-year process, the residents of Seattle’s somewhat worn Yesler Terrace have made the “projects” into a real community. So not everyone is thrilled that improvements are afoot.

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We have no idea what Wednesday will bring, but let’s do this. Let’s commit to focusing on what we once shared with that friend whose life path led him to a different decision. Let’s honor his or her life path if not the most recent destination. We’ve had different life experiences.

Let’s focus on what we both like: the funny things small children say, lazy days at the beach, imaginative Halloween costumes, the blended aromas of a Thanksgiving kitchen, Peter Pan.

There’s no need to bring Abe Lincoln into this, but well, you know: A house divided against itself cannot stand.

As I passed by on my walk last Thursday, this engraving with its old-fashioned wording spoke to me.

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As in other cities nationwide, relations between communities and police are often tense in Boston, but here is a small effort that focuses on reducing arrests and getting help for people who are troubled.

Evan Allen writes at the Boston Globe, “When Officers Michael Sullivan and Jeff Driscoll and senior crisis clinician Ben Linsky head out on their beat in Mattapan, they seek out the most vulnerable citizens: the drug-addicted, the homeless, and the mentally ill. Theirs is the only unit of its kind in the city, and its mission since it was started in February is to help, not arrest, people [with problems]. It’s part of a broader effort in the Police Department to work with the community. …

“Sullivan, Driscoll, and Linsky, who make up Mattapan’s ‘Operation Helping Hands,’ spend two nights a week freed from dispatch calls. Instead, they get to know the people on the streets, figure out what services they need, and try to provide them.

“ ‘You’re one part social worker, one part cop, and one part older brother,’ Sullivan said. …

“The number that [Police Chief William] Evans is most proud of is arrests: for the past year and a half, officers have been locking up fewer and fewer people. The city saw a 15 percent reduction in 2015, followed by the 10 percent drop so far this year.

” ‘When I came on the job, you measured what kind of an officer someone was by quantitative statistics. How many arrests. How many moving violations. We don’t do that anymore,’ Evans said. ‘I think our officers get it: It’s not about throwing people behind bars, it’s about getting them services and opportunities.’

“Driscoll, a 39-year-old father of two, has been on the force for 10 years, all of them in Mattapan. Before that, he served for several years in Watertown. He and Sullivan, a 32-year-old father of a 2-year-old boy, who joined the force three years ago, both grew up in police families, wanting to be officers. When Mattapan Captain Haseeb Hosein decided to start Helping Hands, they were an easy choice.

“ ‘With everything that’s going on in this country, the biggest thing is trust and fear. So how do we break those two barriers down? I think we break it down by building relationships,’ Hosein said. ‘They’re really good guys who understand the environment that we’re in, that we need to go the extra mile.’ ” More.

Getting people services that really create lasting change would be ideal, but who can cavil with de-escalating potential blowups? Ensuring that you don’t make matters worse than they are already is surely an important step.

Photo: Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff
“Operation Helping Hands,” made up of two officers and a crisis clinician, is the only Boston Police unit of its kind.

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Upscale housing developers used to advertise tennis courts, pools, or golf courses as desirable amenities. Today they are increasingly likely to tout farmland.

Amy Hoak writes at MarketWatch about a family in suburban Chicago, where neighbors’ lawn chemicals have killed off pollinators. She reports that the Faheys are moving to a community that offers more opportunity for growing vegetables.

“Set in Hampshire, Ill., about 50 miles from downtown Chicago, Serosun Farms is a new home-conservation development, restoring wetlands, woodlands and prairie, and preserving farmland throughout. Already, the frog population has grown exponentially from the conservation work done onsite, and monarch butterflies are also on the rebound, said Jane Stickland, who is working on the project with her brother, developer John DeWald. Their efforts also are boosting the bee population. …

“Serosun plans to incorporate about 160 acres of working farmland, making farm-to-table a way of life for residents through regular farmer’s markets. The community also offers eight miles of trails, an equestrian center and fishing ponds: 75% of the development will be reserved for farming and open space. …

“The concept isn’t new, but ‘agrihoods’ are gaining in popularity, said Ed McMahon, senior resident fellow for the Urban Land Institute, an organization that focuses on land-use issues. He tracks about 200 agrihoods, where residential development coexists with farmland. …

“ ‘We started to realize you could cluster houses on a small portion of a farm and keep the farm working,’ he said. People were often drawn to the open spaces. More recently, however, there has been a huge interest in locally grown food. ‘All of a sudden, agrihoods have become a hot commodity in residential development,’ McMahon said.” More here.

This concept is not only for upscale developments. In urban neighborhoods without access to a local grocery or healthful food, affordable housing combined with community gardens and sales outlets are moving along without much fanfare. In Providence, for example, West Elmwood Housing Development Corporation‘s new Sankofa Apartments partner with the Sankofa Initiative, an outlet for homegrown food and handmade crafts from many countries. The initiative is satisfying to residents on a personal-development level and as a way to meet neighbors and build community.

Photo: J. Ashley Photography
Serenbe farmers’ market.

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For the longest time, it looked like nothing at all, this art installation of 10,000 sunflowers where route 195 once polluted the soil.

Adam E. Anderson, the brains behind the community-building project, writes on his website, “Ten Thousand Suns is a summer-long botanical performance in which over 10,000 sunflower seeds have been planted and being nurtured over the course of the summer months, on land that until recently sat under a highway, with high compaction, low-organic material, and embedded with toxicity.  …

“Rather than using high maintenance and energy intensive large swaths of turf grass, the installation uses the bio-accumulating (removes toxins) and habitat creating properties of Helioanthus (aka, Sunflower) planted in rows in a series of large circles, leaving paths in-between for intimate exploration.

“The project will create a spontaneous and unique cultural identity for the citizens of Providence and its visitors during the summer months.”

With little rain all summer, the project looked like a hopeless cause for many weeks. Until it didn’t.

In celebration of the cheery results, I want to share a few lines of a poem about a goldfinch loving a sunflower. Because who wouldn’t love a sunflower?

From poet Ross Gay‘s “Wedding Poem”

Friends I am here modestly to report
seeing in an orchard
in my town
a goldfinch kissing
a sunflower
again and again
dangling upside down
by its tiny claws
steadying itself by snapping open
like an old-timey fan
its wings
again and again
until swooning, it tumbled off
and swooped back to the very same perch …

Read more about the project at Adam Anderson’s site, here, and on Facebook, here. Click on my photos to check the dates.

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Photo: Leigh Vincola, ecoRI News
David Kuma, left, is learning to farm under the tutelage of Ben Torpey.

In this story from Leigh Vincola, an ecoRI News contributor, several good things are happening simultaneously.

“David Kuma set out to grow more of his own food as he learned about industrial agriculture and all of its poisons. His father, a biologist, always had a garden growing up, so an innate knowledge of plants followed his curiosity.

“Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., raised partially in rural Illinois and then in Attleboro, Mass., Kuma understands urban, rural and suburban lifestyles and how plants can fit into each.

“Today, Kuma is one of three participants in the Southside Community Land Trust’s (SCLT) farm apprentice program …  Acknowledging that it has been historically difficult for minority populations to enter into commercial growing, the program’s mission is to provide organic farming experience and education to those who are interested.

“Kuma is partnered with Ben Torpey at Scratch Farm, a small-scale, chemical-free operation at Urban Edge Farm. Urban Edge is a state-owned, 50-acre piece of land managed by SCLT, where seven separate farms grow and share resources. The farm was established to give new farmers access to land and a community to learn from. As part of his paid apprenticeship, Kuma spends a full day on the farm two days a week and is learning a lot quickly. …

“From transplanting and cover crops to solarizing and low-till cultivation, Kuma is learning what it takes to run a small-scale farm naturally. His eyes have been opened to the importance of soil health.

“ ‘There’s a lot more to it than putting seeds in the ground,’ he said.

“For Torpey, having an apprentice is rewarding.

“ ‘Dave comes with a intuitive sense of plant biology and his curiosity reminds me that what we’re doing is fun,’ Torpey said. ‘It encourages me to experiment with new things.’ ” More here.

Don’t they both look happy? Nature can do that to you.

Photo: Scratch Farm

 

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Good things continue to happen in the West End of Providence, thanks in large part to the vision and community responsiveness of West Elmwood Housing Development Corporation (WEHDC) under the direction of Sharon Conard-Wells.

Tuesday, WEHDC held a reception to celebrate past accomplishments and the new mixed-income housing development they are about to build. The mayor came. Community members came. Many of Rhode Island’s movers and shakers came. I came.

It was impressive to see how WEHDC’s projects have flourished when you consider that 10 years ago, the nonprofit was tackling the cleanup of a nearby industrial site and hoping to turned the blighted Rau Fastener factory into beautiful mixed-income housing — keeping their fingers crossed that the market would respond.

The market sure did respond, and now WEHDC is starting the second phase. At the same time, it continues community work of many kinds. Antoine started out doing lead abatement and now works with young people in the neighborhood. Adeline works with the community farm and the Sankofa World Market. Rosa and Debra do housing counseling and lending. Rachel manages WEHDC’s many partnerships and is always looking for more.

The energy and optimism are tangible, and it was good to see the recognition the nonprofit is getting from people in a position to ensure that the good work keeps going. The current wish list includes new laptops and web design work (in case you know anyone interested in offering help that is sure to be used wisely). Check out WEHDC here.

Photo: Sankofa Initiative

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Looking through a pile of magazines recently, I found a 2011 newspaper article I had cut out about Hardwick, Vermont. It’s about reinventing the local culture around food and food-related businesses.

Dirk Van Susteren wrote at the Boston Globe, “If there were a ‘Locavore Capital of America’ one would expect it to be in sunny California or perhaps somewhere in the heartland … But, surprisingly, in rocky northern New England, just 45 miles from the Canadian border, is a place that could contend for that honor: Hardwick, a former quarrying town that until recently knew more pain than promise.

“In recent years Hardwick, population 3,200, located along a tumbling stretch of the Lamoille River, has seen a half-dozen innovative agricultural enterprises crop up, many with mission statements including such words as ‘community-based,’ ‘sustainable,’ and ‘organic.’

“The town, always a bit scruffy, and with a high jobless rate, might be on a green trajectory. And people are taking notice.

“Among the new operations here or in nearby towns: Jasper Hill Farm, which makes artisanal cheeses and provides aging, distribution, and marketing services to local cheesemakers; High Mowing Seed Co., an organic seed business, whose owner likes traveling around the country to tell the Hardwick farm and food story; Highfields Center for Composting, a soil-making business that collects its raw materials from restaurants, farms, and schools; Pete’s Greens, a CSA (community-support ed agriculture) farm that grows organic vegetables in gardens and greenhouses; and, finally, Vermont Soy, a tofu and soymilk producer.

“The area also has dozens of small-scale producers, from orchardists to maple sugarmakers. Their products sell at farm stands, at the summer farmers’ market, and at Buffalo Mountain Food Co-op and Cafe, a landmark in its 36th year. …

“Monty Fischer, the executive director of the Center for an Agricultural Economy, the nonprofit organization that helped spur these farm efforts, has kept count. ‘People from 40 states and 40 countries have come to ask about our agricultural cluster,’ he reports, from his downtown office.”

Read about the 2011 federal grant for the Vermont Food Venture Center, an incubator facility, the organic North Hardwick Dairy, where sunflowers are grown as a value-added crop, mead maker Caledonia Spirits, and more here.

And if anyone has been up there recently, I sure would love to know if the food culture is still going strong.

Photo: Wikipedia
North Main St., Hardwick, Vermont

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