Corby Kummer writes about Nuestras Raices, a community gardening program in the "Gateway City" of Holyoke, in the new issue of the Atlantic magazine. Read Kummer's piece, but also check out Melissa DaPonte Katz's "A Tale of Two Valleys," from the Fall 2006 issue of CommonWealth, in which she writes about
Nuestras Raices and the larger issues of poverty and downtown redevelopment in Holyoke, one of the poorest communities in the state and the most heavily Puerto Rican city on the US mainland. (Another CommonWealth, contributor, B.J. Roche, wrote a piece on Nuestras Raices that accompanied Katz's story.) As Katz wrote:
Over time, Holyoke has become the beneficiary of a plethora of publicly funded health and human services, along with grants to combat its problems with gangs, teen pregnancy, and school dropouts. But local officials are now looking for ways to use public dollars to help the city do more than scrape by. Their goal is to salvage something that was left behind by the industrialists who helped develop the city more than 150 years ago: a canal system originally built to power paper and textile mills by harnessing energy from the Connecticut River.
Kummer's focus is not so much the industrial past but the agricultural future at a 30-acre farm along the riverbank:
Ortiz knows how to cook the vegetables he grows (he told me how he fries eggplant): his father is a professional cook, and “half my friends,” he says, are studying to be chefs at Dean Technical. “Some people think gardening is for girls only,” he told me, “and you should get a real job, like working at a factory.” But “seeing someone popular do it makes it easier.”
So does seeing men grow vegetables during the day and use the gardens as social clubs at night. On summer weekends, there are music festivals on a bandstand built from foraged wood. The pig roasts, tended by men, are so popular that the farm will spin off a lechonera, the name for restaurants and roadside stands all over Puerto Rico that sell spit-roasted pig and traditional side dishes.