95 Thornton Community Garden and Farm
With the rapidly shifting urban landscape of Roxbury, preserving the rare gem of open green space that is 95 Thornton Street has become a rallying point for Highland Park residents. After years of dedication, our neighbors at the Hawthorne Youth and Community Center (HYCC) secured a license on the land from the City of Boston, and Haley House began working to convert the land at 95 Thornton Street into a community garden and a small urban farm in the spring of 2014.
The lot at 95 Thornton Street has a unique history. According to long-time Highland Park resident Jon Ellertson, the land was part of the estate owned by the prominent Josiah Wheelwright family in the 19th century. City atlases indicate the land was most likely used as a pasture, as the only structures were small wooden farm-related buildings. Charming animal play-structures (made out of concrete and metal) remain on the lot, indicating that the land was likely managed by the Parks Department in the 1950s. Later abandoned, the land was left cluttered with trash and weeds, though many residents still considered it a quiet and peaceful enclave. In the spring of 2014, the City of Boston licensed 95 Thornton (along with another vacant lot at 184 Highland Avenue) to HYCC.
In April of 2014, a handful of community garden plots were built and planted. Highland Park neighbors and volunteers from Haley House began by building ten raised garden beds along the fence lining Thornton Street. Residents diligently tended the beds through the summer and into the fall, yielding a rich harvest including tomatoes, kale, squash, collard greens, corn, and different varieties of herbs.
Throughout the months of July and August of 2014, Haley House partnered with HYCC to support a pilot summer program for middle and high school-aged youth: “Grow It. Cook It. Share It.” 95 Thornton was the “urban agriculture learning laboratory” for the youth leaders as they learned to clear the land and build raised garden beds, trellises, and container gardens for tomatoes and herbs with the help of Haley House’s Garden Coordinators. The youth faithfully completed their daily work in the gardens – watering, weeding, and monitoring the seedlings they helped to plant – with great interest. “Look, I planted that patch over there!” shared one excited teen. Garden lessons were intertwined with chef Didi Emmons’ cooking classes and nutritionist Luisa Siniscalchi’s lessons.
Plans are well underway to begin transforming the rest of the land into a working urban farm. A generous grant from the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources is making the installation of an irrigation system possible, benefiting both the community gardeners and the larger farming plot that will be maintained by Haley House. We are excited to be able to share produce from this plot with the community through our Soup Kitchen, Community Tables program, Bakery Café, Dudley Dough, and Take Back the Kitchen cooking classes.
We invite you to join us this spring and summer as we work together to make this beautiful community project in support of local farming and preservation of green space a success! Click here to read more about our garden workdays and sign up to volunteer!