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  • Betsy Larkin

Cultivate, Grow, Repeat: Growing Center Recap, 2018-2022

The last five years have been incredibly industrious in our neck of the woods - and not just in Union Square itself. During the most active years of our Cultivate Campaign, our little green space was in the midst of a very transformative chapter in its own life. In fall of 2018, we ended the season early to start our renovation process, significantly supported by Community Preservation Act funds. An incredibly busy off season resulted in the entire space being updated: damaged pathways and deteriorating retaining walls were removed and replaced; utilities were added; several native perennial beds, the pollinator garden and the herb garden were all replanted; and selective trees were harvested to give way to more room, light and a more biodiverse ecosystem. We planted young saplings in the lower garden, constructed raised beds, and re-sodded the lawn area. In addition, nonprofit design outfit Terra Cura Inc. worked with Somerville High School's carpentry, metal, and electrical shop on constructing site furniture, storage, and ADA railing construction. Talk about growing the community!

The basic work was completed in late June of 2019, after which we reopened to yet another shortened season. Then, in March 2020, after a very successful public Maple Boil, COVID hit the world, and changed everything. That spring, we chose to make do with new health and safety restrictions - working with a limited group of volunteers while closed to the public, the Friends made a deep commitment to using the space in a way that would benefit many members of the community, including supporting area food security partners with fresh produce grown in the garden. Later in the summer, the Somerville YMCA camps were able to visit weekly to learn about pollinators, plants, and herbs; find secret paths; and run, play and create in nature. Once harvest season was in full swing, we were able to send the kids back to the Y with shopping bags full of veggies, and even leave some harvests outside the garden gate for the public. Our partnership with the Y and a few other partners through our Children in Nature Initiative, like Allen Street Head Start, continued into the winter season like they had the year before to allow children to visit even in the cold months.

We were also incredibly fortunate to partner with MassArt’s Community Build Program in 2020, whose students designed and built a new pergola over our stage area, as well as on moveable storage/furniture units, completing one of the last major projects of our renovation. The completion of this project truly marks a new beginning for the Growing Center, during which this tiny urban green space once again plays an important role in community building, nature education and cultural programming!

If 2021 was any indication, our reach is increasing more and more with each passing year. Having expanded our Open Hours during the winter, we were able to welcome many new visitors on a weekly basis; in total in 2021, we tallied 1,837 visitors during a total of 377 Open Hours. We held 13 volunteer orientations and 24 volunteer work day sessions, and had a total of 428 unique volunteers last year. With twenty active children/youth partners, we welcomed 1,971 children through our nature partnerships throughout the year.

The 2022 season promises a full calendar of music, dance, film and art for the first time since 2018, as well as workshops on gardening and environmental topics. We cannot wait to dig into that soil this spring, planting new seeds - not just in the ground but all around us - as we continue in our mission of community building and bringing the people of Somerville together - all in the great outdoors! See you in the garden!


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