Learn more about Boston Natural Areas Network.
Genevieve Rajewski covers animal issues, food, and agriculture for publications such as The Boston Globe and Edible Boston. Read more at genevieverajewski.com.
Nightingale Garden has become BIGG’s flagship. Located on the grounds of the former Florence Nightingale public school, the 1.4-acre property used to be overgrown and underused. Intensive clearing and remediation efforts restored the soil, and concrete pathways, raised planters, and strategically placed water outlets made it fully accessible to people of all ages and abilities.
Most of Nightingale’s plots were snatched up the first day they became available. The rest went within a week. They drew experienced and novice gardeners, primarily from the homes next door and the nearby neighborhoods of Codman Square and Fields Corner.
At least six languages are spoken at Nightingale, including English, Haitian Creole, Vietnamese, and Arabic. Singles, couples, families, 20-somethings, and retired people all come together here. Over the summer, they also mingled at outdoor concerts and workshops on food preparation, nutrition, fitness, and composting.
Dorchester resident Yvette Fair counts herself lucky to be among them. The owner of a convenience store in Codman Square, Fair grew eggplant, collard greens and tomatoes at Nightingale this summer, with help from her husband and their four children, ages 3 through 12.
“The cost of vegetables was too high at the grocery store,” says Fair. “And my kids love their veggies.” With lifestyle changes like this, it’s no surprise that the Boston Public Health Commission funded BIGG with a grant from the U.S. Center for Disease Control’s Communities Putting Prevention to Work Program, which encourages healthy eating and exercise to end childhood obesity.
However, Burns says, exercise and fresh food are not the only ways that gardens like Nightingale nourish communities: “People are also are using them as gathering spaces,” coming together as families and neighbors in a rare and special way.