Gardens are mostly thought of as feeding our bodies, but they can also feed our souls. So it is with the Spring Hill Garden, located at 125 Lowell St. at the Cambridge Health Alliance’s (CHA) Somerville Hospital Campus, where 13 beds nurture the community.
The three-year-old garden plot is the brainchild of Lisa Brukilacchio (pictured below), the director of Somerville Community Health Agenda at CHA, who took a plot of underused yard behind the hospital and turned it into a productive space that now supplies fresh food to local pantries and residence programs.
“We wanted to addresses food insecurity issues in the city,” Brukilacchio said.
In 2010, Brukilacchio answered the call by national and state leaders for hospitals to become more involved in creating access to healthy food and was able to secure funding for the garden through Urban Farms Detroit. Now the garden flourishes with the help of local donations and volunteers who tend the plots.
“It was the perfect coming together,” Brukilacchio said. “It’s what hospitals were doing.”
While Brukilacchio and her staff (like Lisia Caldeira and Linda Cundiff, pictured below) water and weed the garden, it is also tended by CHA’s Victims of Violence Program, a group that provides mental health services for crime victims and crime-victimized communities. The group meets once a week at the garden to harvest produce and deliver it to local food programs like the HIV food pantry at CHA’s Somerville Hospital Campus, Elizabeth Peabody House and Project Soup.
“What kind of glued it together was that we could make it work well beyond our own food pantry here to include two others in the city,” Brukilacchio said. Most of the people benefiting from the garden “may not have the opportunity to grow their own food” otherwise.
The Victims of Violence Program members have become stewards of the garden, tending not only their plot but the entire 13 beds plus many of the ornamental plants as well.
Brukilacchio said that the group wrote a thank you letter at the end of last season about how working in the garden changed many of their lives. Brukilacchio keeps a garden log detailing not only what is grown in the garden, but also the impact of participation on those who tend it.
“This is part of something,” Brukilacchio said. “It helps open the discussion.”
In addition to broccoli, lettuce, tomatoes and herbs, the garden is also home to some lesser-known plants such as purslane, which is a commonly used green within the Haitian population. Brukilacchio hopes that by nurturing some of these plants people will be able to connect across cultures and try new things.
The garden has also garnered notice within the hospital, where people often swap tips at meetings, which leads to discussions about the importance of growing food in the city.
“This is an excuse to get people talking about the other half of the plate,” Brukilacchio said. “We’re making it visible and demonstrating that it’s possible. … It really is about coming full circle. We’re showing that you can take a little bit of space and make something.”