Egleston orchard reaps the benefits of volunteer work

March 16, 2012
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(Courtesy Photo) (from left) Dan Bensonoff and Mike Steinhoff work on the strawberry patch in the Egleston Community Orchard last summer.

Egleston Sq.—A community orchard and garden has received a grant from City Hall to develop a former junk lot on Boylston Street.

Egleston Community Orchard (ECO) received a grant from the Department of Neighborhood Development to work with the community to develop a plan for the lot at 195 Boylston Street.

“The grant will help us get technical assistance from a landscape architect and hold community meetings to get more community input. If all goes well, this will be happening in 2013,” organizer Hannah Thomas said.

Volunteers started working on the ECO in May 2010, Thomas told the Gazette.

“The space was an above- and below-ground dump. Trash everywhere. The only thing growing was grass, knotweed and a touch of violets,” said volunteer Dan Bensonoff. “While shoveling around, we managed to uncover most of a car.”

Since then, ECO has bloomed into an orchard and garden that boasts tomatoes, a composting area, basil, flowers, chard, kale, a path, an arbor for grapes, blueberries, raspberries, currants, and apple trees.

“We’re also growing relationships with our neighbors and young people in the neighborhood,” Thomas said.

In 2010, Luis “Tito” Torres, 23, was shot and killed on Boylston Street in front of the orchard.

“We had a work day the next day and spent time with his friends and family providing food. We planted a blueberry bush with them all and said prayers with them,” Thomas said.

Challenges persist, however. There is no spigot on the city-owned lot, so water must be brought in or collected in barrels.

“We’re hoping to expand our water harvesting so that we can be as self-sufficient as possible. We may also want to get access to city water,” Thomas said. “These are questions we’re still figuring out.”

Thomas has big plans for ECO’s future: she hopes to expand to other lots in the neighborhood and eventually build a network of community orchards around Egleston Square to provide access to fresh food. She also said she hopes neighbors will meet neighbors and learn gardening and building skills.

“We [also] hope to raise money to hire a youth intern from Egleston Square over the next year,” she said.

Bensonoff said the effort is worth it.

“I love gardening, dirt, plants and people who love all of the above. The community aspect is key. Gardening and creating food is a great way to link people to each other and their environment,” he said.