In Full Bloom
Photography by Deborah McCarthy
When Phoebe Flemming was a little girl, she would spend her summers at her grandparents in Upstate New York and enjoy their gardens. A seed was planted and thanks to her happy childhood memories, Phoebe understands the unique benefits a garden provides to children. “Every child should have the ability to plant a seed and watch vegetables grow,”says Phoebe. Although not rare to have a garden in South Boston, it is not the norm, so that’s where South Boston Grows enters to helps our community blossom.
After working the first five years of her career as a registered dietician at the South Boston Community Health Center, Phoebe became frustrated with the lack of healthy and fresh food in the neighborhood. Out of frustration came inspiration in the form of South Boston Grows, an educational community garden. Since 2009, they have been harvesting delicious crops from their edible gardens at 70 Devine Way, West Broadway and the George Berlandi Garden in the Old Colony Housing Development.
Another important aspect of South Boston Grows is giving back to the community. During the growing season, harvested food is donated to local food pantries and utilized in cooking programs locally. The children involved in the program will take the fresh produce home and are encouraged to share, educate and promote the importance of healthy food with their families and friends. By the end of 2013, South Boston Grows will be growing food on more than a quarter acre of land in South Boston.
After School Special:
Through South Boston Grows after school and summer programs, kids learn how to cook foods they are growing. “We have found that kids and their families are more likely to try new foods that they grow themselves. If kids are hungry, they will pretty much eat anything,” says Phoebe. Giving children the tools to prepare and cook food will provide lasting healthy benefits throughout their lives.
Who is involved in South Boston Grows?
Our vice president is Joe Kebartas of the South Boston Arts Association. He is also a large supporter of the St. Monica’s Food Pantry and upon becoming a Master Urban Gardener, has been very active and extraordinarily helpful in taking care of the Devine Way gardens and recruiting volunteers. Donna Brown of the Neighborhood Development Corporation (SBNDC), a very committed board member, has been a tremendous asset as we work in collaboration with the SBNDC throughout the year to develop and maintain garden spaces. Linda Doran and Mayra Rodriguez-Howard, leaders of the Youth Ambassadors Program, along with their amazing teen program, have been integral to the South Boston Grows programming, maintenance, and food distribution. A dozen youth engaged in this wonderful program spend nine weeks each summer taking care of the gardens, distributing food, and learning how to cook in addition to many other skills. They have created artwork and music in the garden and each year, shoot for the stars. Mike McGee, Christine Kane of the Mom’s Club (also a co-founder), Jake Bombard, Matthew Thayer of American Provisions, and Susan Labandibar, President of Tech Networks of Boston are all committed board members. Planet Southie helps us with social media and promotes SBG whenever possible. Planet Southie’s goal is to connect neighbors to initiatives like South Boston Grows. We are lucky to have a diverse board and strong and willing volunteers to help us grow.
The Scoop on Phoebe:
- President and Co-Founder of South Boston Grows
- Master Urban Gardener, and Masters in Nutrition candidate at Bowling Green State University
- Bachelor of Science in Nutrition ad Dietetics from the University of Vermont
How long have you lived in South Boston?
I started working at South Boston Community Health Center as their Nutritionist in the summer of 2005 and moved here shortly there after. I have lived on the east side, the west side, and right off Broadway. I just moved into the Fort Point neighborhood. This neighborhood needs more usable green space and trees and I hope that South Boston Grows can make an impact there in the very near future.
What is your favorite spot in South Boston ?
Might sound cliche but 70 Devine Way’s gardens have a lot of meaning to me and it is my mission to keep viable land like this in use for food production. We have seen improvements in the fertility of the land since we started growing food there in 2009. By keeping this site in production, we will continue to improve the neighborhood, provide increased access to healthy food, and very importantly, education to the neighbors about safe food growing and healthy food preparation. I cannot wait to spend my summer with the youth farmers on this site and the two others we will be “farming” with the summer program this year.
What is your favorite restaurant in South Boston?
Amrheins – for its history and its food, not necessarily in that order
What is your favorite bar in South Boston?
Telegraph Hill – a little off the beaten path but they have a ton of local beers and exceptional pub fare
You are so active in our community – tell us the organizations that you are involved with:
Upon starting South Boston Grows, “we” realized it would be very important to engage with other groups to both access difficult to access land and to build a “workforce” to keep the gardens growing. We partnered with local churches and community centers as well as the SBNDC and the Boston Housing Authority Task Forces. By doing this, we could reach residents closest to the gardens that we are maintaining and make sure that these people saw and “reaped” the direct benefit. In addition to these organizations, I am involved with the Youth Ambassadors during the school year and the summer time, help out with the Street Festival and The Farmers Market and make time whenever possible to attend community meetings, especially when related to access to community green space and food growing.
How can people volunteer for South Boston Grows?
We keep our website updated with dates and times to help us out in the gardens and try to keep an active presence on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/pages/South-Boston-Grows/152026850820?ref=ts&fref=ts) in an effort to engage volunteers of all ages. We meet at each garden a few times each week – in the evenings (check our website at http://southbostongrows.org/) and Sundays from 3-5 at 70 Devine Way. This has been our meeting time for the last five years and it is a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon with friends in the neighborhood AND take home FREE food!
Why do you think it’s important for people to be involved in their community?
I have lived in more than five states in my 30 years and still remember the neighbors I have had through the years. Whether you are three or 30, you are touched by the people who you meet and greet and spend time with throughout your life. As our neighborhood changes, the needs of the neighborhood change. We started South Boston Grows because we realized there was a need for increased access to fresh produce. As time has gone on, we have changed what we grow to fit the interests of the neighborhood. We work together with neighbors from all over South Boston to grow and share more than 30 varieties of fruits and vegetables over the growing season. And I’m pretty confident we are building not just gardens and growing veggies but growing community too!