The Victory Park Garden was a great success during its first opening season. The 24 by 32 feet fenced-in garden was created in June 2012, with the help of a grant provided by Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Foundation. Over the course of the Summer and Fall months, roughly 100 children involved with Trips for Kids (TFK) New Bedford program, were able to develop and care for the garden and enjoy its production. These kids came from a number of partnering organizations such as YWCA Kids, the Boys and Girls Club, Women’s Center, Our Sisters School, Nativity Prep and local residents.
Each week, a group of children participating in TFK , along with the TFK staff and student leaders, rode their bikes to the garden two to three times per week, and were responsible for watering, weeding, harvesting, and replanting crops. Additionally, peer leaders would provide educational sessions about the various crops growing, including their use and nutrition. The garden produced a variety of vegetables, all donated by Fred Dabney of Quansett Nurseries in South Dartmouth, MA. These included cucumbers, tomatoes, green beans, eggplant, green peppers, squash, and herbs. Healthy snacks were created and happily consumed daily! Also, children were encouraged to bring the fresh vegetables home to their families and to prepare healthy dishes. The enthusiasm displayed by the children was overwhelming. During a typical visit to the garden, it was not uncommon to see kids biting into green peppers like an apple or popping cherries tomatoes in their mouths like grapes.
To compliment the garden, curricula was taught which included the “How-to’s” of gardening, as well as on Healthy Eating and Food Preparation. One of the most important aspects of the project was the involvement of two student leaders who served as role models to the children throughout the entire season. Each week, on the first visit to the garden, these student leaders introduced the children to the garden, gave them a history of the “long pie” (a squash from Portugal planted in the garden), and would teach them how to tend to the garden. These role models also were responsible for creating healthy snacks for the children, using recipes from the Healthy Eating curriculum. A favorite included fresh vegetable kabobs with cucumbers, tomatoes, basil, mozzarella cheese, and balsamic vinaigrette, as well as a fresh vegetable hummus. During these preparations, the peer leaders were able to demonstrate food safety and proper knife skills they were taught by the Mass in Motion New Bedford Healthy Living Consultant, also a registered dietician. The basics of gardening were first taught by the garden’s project coordinator, a local neighbor and garden expert who works with UMass Dartmouth Office of Campus and Community Sustainability and the Trustees of Reservations.
To celebrate the garden, Mass in Motion New Bedford hosted a launch event at the Victory Park Children’s Garden on August 14, 2012. The event included speeches by Dr. Pauline Hamel of Mass in Motion, New Bedford Mayor Jonathan Mitchell, Michael Devlin of the Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Foundation, Chancery Perks (project coordinator) from the UMass Dartmouth Sustainability Initiative, Ms. Joann Tschaen (executive director of Trips for Kids New Bedford), and the two student leaders. The children presented the Mayor with a basket of freshly picked vegetables. To close the event, a video was presented in the Victory Park Warming House comprised of photos and video clips collected throughout the summer. The video was created by Sheamus McNamara, a videographer and graduate of Trips for Kids. The entire launch event was filmed by New Bedford Cable Access and you can check it out here.
The Victory Park Children’s Garden closed for the season on October 25, 2012 when the children “winterized” it by spreading rye seed. The technique was used to enrich and protect the soil for planting next season in Spring 2013. At the end of the season and into the Spring, the project coordinator increased the size and impact of the garden for the coming year when a new group of TFK participants would learn similar lessons and grow another garden in 2013.