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Local youths take over vacant Roxbury lot, build community garden

Posted by Patrick Rosso  April 23, 2013 09:42 AM

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(Patrick D. Rosso/

Aniyah Biscombe, an 18-year-old volunteer from Roxbury , loaded up on fresh dirt Thursday.

A lot that has been vacant for more years than residents can remember will soon be reborn as a community garden.

Youth from the Roxbury Environmental Empowerment Project, a youth-led initiative funded and overseen by Alternatives for Community & Environment, recently started cleaning up a vacant parcel on the corner of Maple Street and Schuyler Street in Roxbury.

The teens constructed 15 raised beds on the lot to provide neighbors in the community a place to grow their own food.

“We know there is land nobody is doing anything with, so we want to make it a community space,” said Hakim Sutherland, an 18-year-old Dorchester resident and youth organizer for REEP and it's "Grow or Die" initiative.

“It’s a challenge to find good food in this neighborhood; we have a lot of corner stores but no fresh food,” he added.

The parcel is owned by a Rhoda Ryan, according to the city’s Assessing Department.

Calls placed to Ryan have gone unreturned.

Organizers with REEP said they have also tried to contact the owner seeking permission to use the lot.

The youth said they got no response so they decided to take over the privately owned land.

“Everybody has the right to take a vacant lot if they need it,” said Cristal Martinez, a 15-year-old Dorchester resident and youth organizer for REEP. “We want to make it into a safe community space where people can grow their own food and come together.”

On Thursday the youths unveiled their work to the community, inviting neighbors in to see their new plots.

“It has always been an empty lot,” said Barbara Inman, a 50-year-old area resident. “I think what they are doing is exciting”

“If I can grow my own vegetables that’d be great,” Inman added. “It will help save me money and I love fresh food.”

With “environmental justice” on the mind, many of the neighbors said a community garden, even if the youths have to trespass to do it, is better than another empty lot in the area.

“Ever since I can remember it’s been an empty lot,” said Dorothy Jones, an area resident of 40-years. “I’m glad they’re doing something with it, it’s better than it being an eyesore.”

This is the second time REEP has taken an empty lot and turned it into a community garden. The initiative was first started on Dorchester's Ellington Street in October 2011. Like with the Ellington Street lot, a community process was conducted by REEP to gauge neighbors' interest on the Roxbury project. REEP will continue to support the garden, but ultimately the residents will be in charge of the space, said Sutherland.

“The people in this neighborhood would love to use this land,” said Eduardo Irizarry, a 48-year-old area resident. “People will now actually be able to come out and enjoy this space.”

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