(Patrick D. Rosso/Boston.com/2013)
An idea by a Harbor Pilot Middle School eighth-grader has become a reality after youths from the public school began work on a new community garden in Dorchester.
Students were out in the sun Thursday to construct four planter boxes on a vacant city-owned lot on the corner of Leroy Street and Geneva Avenue.
“I walk by this every day and it is just full of weeds and was useless,” explained Sasha-Gaye Spencer, the eighth-grader who came up with the idea. “In this neighborhood there are more fast-food places than there are places to buy vegetables, so I wanted to start a community garden.”
The idea for the project came out of the school’s Youth Participatory Action Research program. Partnering with the Roxbury Environmental Empowerment Project, an off-shoot of the nonprofit Alternatives for Community and Environment, students throughout the year learned about healthy living and how they could support it.
“It’s really never too early to reach out to kids and get them thinking about food and social justice,” said Tyree Ware, 21, a REEP alum who worked with the students Thursday. “If we can get them noticing things in their community and trying to change them, then hopefully they will carry that on.”
Students were busy Thursday afternoon as the filled the planter boxes with dirt and prepared them for nearby residents.
“We want our school to be known as part of the community,” explained Chris Tsang, an eighth-grade English teacher at the Harbor School and coordinator for the project.
“The Harbor School should be part of the solution and things like this help our students see that what they are learning is important and relevant,” Tsang added.
As pedestrians passed by the garden some stopped to chat with the students, curious about what was happening at the lot known for its tall weeds.
“I think it’s a good idea because we have all these abandoned properties and low income people that need vegetables,” said Charles Barbour, 43, a life-long Bowdoin-Geneva resident. “Why leave it abandoned if they can do something respectful with it.”
Although the students don’t have permission from the city to use the property, Tsang said an extensive outreach effort was conducted and neighbors were excited for the project.
“This is just another part of the continued revitalization of the area,” said Tsang. “If we can do something small here maybe the neighbors will feel empowered.”
The students still need to find a water source for the garden and add a few finishing touches, but at least one resident said she felt empowered by the garden.
“I’m proud to do something for my neighborhood,” said Spencer. “I want to see something other than weeds growing here and see people coming together.”