Champion in Action: Boston Natural Areas Network

(NECN: Scot Yount, Boston) - NECN and Citizens Bank are teaming up to honor a "Champion in Action."

On Tuesday, Boston Natural Areas Network was awarded the honor, along with a $35,000 grant to continue their great work in the community.

"What we do is transform vacant land in the city to make it usable, permanent and productive," said Valerie Burns, President of Boston Natural Areas Network.

The Nightingale Community Garden is a jewel in the Codman Square Neighborhood of Dorchester.

It wasn't always that way.

The site of an old Boston School, it was a piece of contaminated ground where people did their best to scratch out a few vegetables.

The Boston Natural Areas Network changed all that, and just last year, renovated the land. At one and half acres, it is now one of the largest of the 174 community gardens in the city. Valerie Burns heads up the organization.

"Everyone here loves to garden, wants to grow food, and wants to share what they can grow, with their neighbor," said Burns.

And it is contagious.

Elnora Thompson is garden coordinator now 25 years.

"This is like you open your living room and all your friends come over for Sunday dinner," said Thompson.

Elnora clearly loves this land and the people who garden these one hundred and thirty three plots. She loves the newbies.

"Oh the feeling, you can't believe what a feeling you get it is like having a new baby," laughed Thompson.

People like Maria Ayala, gardening here now just two years.

"You come and you meet so many different people, from different places, from different nations, and we have all something in common, just coming here and planting and reaping the fruits," said Ayala.

Maria is introducing her four year old granddaughter Jada to the joys, of gardening and eating fresh food.

"The broccoli, and the beans, and the beans yeah, and the broccoli, and the broccoli, you like the broccoli? Yeah, she loves greens," said Maria Ayala/Gardener.

You know that you don't have to spend much time here before you quickly come to the realization that they cultivate two very basic things here, one is obviously the produce that the people take home and feed their families or donate to a food pantry. The other, and perhaps this is even more important, is that they are cultivating relationships.

"Community gardens really grow neighbors. It is an opportunity for people to really get to know each other, in ways that they wouldn't in their other parts of neighborhood life," said Burns.

"We have people here that don't speak english at all, but we all seem to communicate when it comes to growing food," said Thompson.

And that makes for a better community. Sayed Mohamed-Nour is from Sudan. He is teaching his 15-year-old son Mohamed about their country's native food.

"Instead of getting food from any store that they don't know from where it comes, is better to have their own food. In the garden when they come they meet other people this is I think, very important," said Mohamed-Nour/Gardner.

Mohamed wasn't keen on all this at first.

"I have a lot of other stuff like I could go play and just hang out with friends but since I got into gardening, I have to make some time for that because it is part of my life now," said Mohamed Abdelrahim.

And there is one other, very important thing.

"Like the only thing, me and my dad do together, yeah, that is awesome, yeah, I guess so," said Abdelrahim.


"The satisfaction of people growing their own food," said Thompson.

And neighbors.

"So it is really about growing a community," said Burns.

Contact Us