Urban Gardens

by Sherrie Kelly

Perhaps we spent too much time out in the fields on our farm back in Canton but something about the smell of damp earth on a misty rainy day feels good and right. When the clouds are hanging low in the sky it dulls your senses and you hear only the inside of a raincoat, smell only the moist air, and see only a mile in front of you.

In the city there are so many other things to smell, see and hear. You may only be able to see a mile, but within that mile cars rush by, trains whoosh down their track and crowds of people hurry along the streets. The sounds never stop either; sirens keep humming their troubling songs that remind you that heartache, stress, and pain are only a block away.

On the grey day of May 9th, we found the urban oasis from the smells of vehicle exhausts, sewers, and restaurants. There is a way to get the same peace in the city that one finds in the country: through the beauty of urban gardening. We started today on a rooftop with Recover Green Roofs. Mark, our guide and SLU alum, described all the benefits of gardening on top of your building. Green roofs help retain storm water instead of having it become runoff and contaminate water systems. Green roofs also reduce the heat island effect which is caused by black roofs and pavement absorbing heat and creating a much warmer atmosphere around cities. The soil keeps buildings naturally cool during the summer and provides insulation in the winter.

Unfortunately, green roofs are not yet economically viable in this country. Farm statistics suggest that it is possible to make $3 per square foot in urban settings. However, because they have not become widely popular in the United States, it still costs $30 per square foot to install a green roof. It would take at least ten years to pay off which makes it difficult for companies such as Recover Green Roofs to market their product, especially for residential settings. So far, the market has been focused mainly on restaurants and corporations.

We have all enjoyed living in Boston and grown used to how crowded the streets are or how noisy it is outside our windows as we fall asleep at night. Yet after seeing the rooftop and all the growing plants, we long for our life back at our beloved home in Canton. Thankfully, we got a taste of what we are all missing when we visited Groundwork Somerville.

Groundwork Somerville is a non-profit organization that focuses bringing the Somerville community together to work on projects that regenerate and improve the physical environment. We spoke mainly with Kristin DelViscio, the Green Team Coordinator. The Green Team is a group of youth who ride through Somerville and the surrounding areas in a troupe of bikes and grow food. They bring this food to farmer’s markets as well as food deserts in the city with their innovative Mystic Mobile Market. This way, people in Somerville can rely on getting fresh, healthy, local food.

Kristin brought us to South Street Farm in which she and the green team had built several raised beds in a vacant parking lot. Kristin also has big plans for the gloomy grey fence that separates the garden from the neighboring car junkyard; she will work with the Green Team to paint a “data mural” which will depict statistics about how community garden spaces will benefit all members of the community and the environment, as well as show statistics about child obesity and food deserts worldwide. The mural will be updated regularly and Kristin hopes that it will spur conversations about food issues in Somerville.

Kristin put us to work transplanting various herbs from pots to the garden beds. It feels like it has been ages since we had dirt under our fingernails, and it felt great. This day of gardening really brought us back to our roots and we can’t wait to get back to our own garden at home.

Zelie Wright Neil and Olivia Downs