Growing up in Lowell, I always heard stories of my great grandfather using ashes from the coal furnace in the family home on Shaw Street to fertilize the backyard where he grew hundreds of pounds of potatoes each year. It is those stories, in part, that propel me outside each spring to dig and plant and water even though the end result never quite lives up to expectations. As I did more research about the history of Lowell, interviewing members of the different ethnic groups that make up the city, it soon became clear that a similar connection to agriculture is a thread that ties together everyone in Lowell. When immigrants first came to Lowell, be their starting point Laconia, Quebec, County Clare, Battabang, Liberia or any other of a hundred places around the globe, they all plunged into the city’s industrial economy for subsistence, but anytime a plot of ground, no matter how small, became available to them, they started growing things. No one called it gardening back then – gardening was for the wealthy. This was farming on a small scale. Certainly this agriculture helped supplement that family diet, but it also provided a cultural link to the lives they had left behind. As Lowell continues to evolve and change, one thing that can easily unite all residents, from those here for generations to those who arrived only recently, is urban agriculture. That’s why I’ve become so interested in Mill City Grows.
Mill City Grows was founded just last year by Francey Slater and Lydia Sisson. The organization’s mission is “To increase community access to healthy, fresh food through the development of urban food production and distribution networks.” They have done many things to promote urban agriculture in Lowell and they have great plans for 2013. In fact, the 2013 season kicked-off last night with a Seed Swap & Pot Luck Dinner event at the YWCA Acre Youth Center on Rock Street. I joined about 35 others in attendance to buy some seeds already on-hand, to order others from the many catalogs available, to share some food, and to talk about growing things in a city with people who were passionate about the topic.
A great way to learn about Mill City Grows (besides visiting their website) is to watch their 2012 Annual Appeal video below. Check it out and get involved. Spring will be here before we know it.