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  • Hildi Gabel

Volunteer Spotlight: Liliana Bettolo

When I met Liliana Bettolo at the Growing Center, she was picking up vegetables from her CSA share – likely not the only stop she’d make to the Center that week. Liliana has been a member of the Garden Team for the past two years, working with Paula and other volunteers on garden tasks. As a sustainability consultant who helps food brands mitigate their environmental impact, she came to the Growing Center looking for a way to reconnect with food and be outside.

“It became this awesome, symbiotic relationship where Paula would sit and teach me things and I would be a little task rabbit and get that outside time I needed,” she says. She’s also jumped in to boil sap in the Maple Boil, paint signs, and help make the garden loom.

Liliana boiling sap in preparation for the 2023 Maple Boil.

Sitting in the herb garden last month, we got to talk about gardening, her favorite memories from spending time volunteering here, and what she believes the Somerville Community Growing Center’s impact is on the population of Somerville. This conversation has been edited.

Q: Do you have any favorite memories at the Growing Center?

A: I love the big events we have here, but it's so much the small moments. It's been really nice for the garden to be a regular part of my routine, and to have these moments with certain volunteers where we get super excited learning that linden tree flowers can be used to make tea – and suddenly we're all picking linden tree flowers. Those are moments I'll always hold onto and will teach other people, and probably teach my kids.

Q: Do you see intersections between your work and what you do at the Growing Center?

A: Having an impact is important in my career – I think most of us are striving for that, and I just chose the environmental route. My first job out of school was with a well-known brand in sustainability, and I thought, I'm going to make these big changes. Now I'm a consultant advising food brands and maximizing impact, but I'm realizing so much of the real transformation is grassroots. We’re continually getting more disconnected from what we're eating and siloed into our home bubbles. The garden and my moments here have taught me those grassroots efforts are how you can really change minds and ways of being. When I work with companies today, I see how top-down approaches don't work, that you have to be talking to people on the ground.

Q: What impact do you think the garden has on sustainability in the neighborhood? In what ways is it affecting some change?

A: The biodiversity in the Growing Center has all these impacts locally. I see more birds here than in my own backyard. We have native flowers and pollinators, and we collect seeds at the end of the year that I bring into my own backyard and share with friends. The beauty of nature is that you help make a space for it, and then it does its thing – so what happens in the garden can be shared with the surrounding area easily.

There’s also the connection to people, getting people to see a garden differently. American culture has this very constrained image of a garden, but the Growing Center is so much more beautiful in my mind. It's inspiring this idea of a garden into surrounding neighborhoods.

Q: Is there anything else people should know about the Growing Center?

A: Paula, Lisa, and Betsy are these local impact leaders in Somerville, and there's so much to learn from them and their dedication, especially for young people looking for mentorship and trying to figure out things in life. Living in Cambridge and Somerville, you tend to hang out with people of the same age. There's great intergenerational wisdom here, from little kids all the way to them.


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