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Back in Ballou

As it begins to get warmer, the team and I have made plans to go back to the farm, Oasis on Ballou, to support the local community.

Apolo teaching Care Force Staff member James Simmons and TCF 15 how to prune and harvest the vegetables in the high tunnel.

Under the leadership of the farm manager, Apolo Catala, Oasis on Ballou has been transformed from an abandoned housing lot to a vibrant urban farm complete with raised beds, a shed, an outdoor classroom, a farm stand, low tunnels, a high tunnel, and a state-of-the-art irrigation system. This transformation has been made possible not just because of Apolo’s inspirational leadership, but also the countless hours volunteered by local residents, community organizations, and two iterations of Team Care Force.  During our involvement with the farm this fall, we helped to build more raised beds, to plant vegetables and to add fencing protecting the beds from hungry groundhogs. The high tunnel, a new addition that serves as a greenhouse, is continually being updated to ensure that the farm can supply enough food to serve the community. For the first half of the farming season, the team and I worked around ongoing They partnered with local community organizers to provide Oasis with this electrical upgrade to aid in building more community and grow within the one they consistently serve.

Since beginning our weekly Friday service at the Oasis on Ballou in August 2020, Team Care Force members have been able to witness firsthand the farm’s continued growth and its impact in the fight against food insecurity. As a current TCF member, my first season at the farm was a learning experience since I didn’t have much knowledge of growing and maintaining fruits and vegetables. One of the volunteers at the farm said, “Some people have magical green thumbs and others have miracle-gro green thumbs.” For me, by the end of the season I hoped to figure out how to get that magic touch and learn more about how to grow the food I eat. By serving at the farm nearly every week this past fall, the team and I were able to explore and connect with the community, learn the value and possibilities of the farm and what it produces, and of course plant, tend to, and harvest produce. All these ventures have helped me gain perspective on the communities we serve and see where the real magic lies at the Oasis on Ballou.

Miguel, an Oasis on Ballou farmer, and TCF15 planting vegetables that can grow throughout the winter.

Although the installation of electricity and plumbing led to areas of the farm being inaccessible, it didn’t stop us all from hopping over trenches and climbing under branches to harvest the hundreds of pounds of fruits and vegetables every Friday for the Saturday farmers’ market in Codman Square. In addition to harvesting, we fertilized water, planted vegetables, pruned dead or infected leaves, and made the “perfect” soil mixture many times. Harvesting is one of my favorite tasks because we get to see the result of all the work we and other volunteers have put into the farm. This fall, we harvested Mexican oregano, chocolate peppers, peaches, three different eggplant varieties, celery, and countless other treats. Another reason is that I can see the smiles on people’s faces as they receive their Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) packs which are mystery bags of random fruits and vegetables grown at the farm for local community members and seeing the table full of what we harvested getting picked to eat.

TCF 15 member Alissa harvesting zucchini for the first time!

Connecting to the community has been my highlight at the farm. Coming from a different state, I was initially not familiar with who I was serving or why. While at the farm, I have gotten the chance to connect with local farmers, other volunteers ranging from high school students to mothers with an affinity for planting, college students, graduates in community farming programs, and even local officials. From my conversations with them, I understand the impact that the farm has had on the Dorchester community and how it has inspired others. Oasis on Ballou doesn’t just plant greens, they plant callaloo because that’s what the demographic in the community knows. Callaloo is a green that is commonly used in Caribbean countries which fits the diverse Dorchester demographic. They don’t restrict the community from coming inside the walls of the farm, it’s a farm for everybody. Volunteers and local community members can feel the passion of the leaders at OASIS and understand it drives growth, healthy resources, and community development for the surrounding neighborhoods.

TCF 15 grow pots filled with squash, eggplants, okra, and corn.

The connections didn’t stop there, the team and I mentioned that we serve at the Oasis to the Copley’s Farmers Market workers at the information desk. They were eager to connect more with us since they knew exactly where and who we were talking about. This was a market that was in a completely different area, but they still were influenced by the work and enthusiasm of Oasis on the Ballou. This is still only the beginning for this urban farm, I can say without a doubt that it has left a stamp on me and the current Team Care Force. We all have filled hearts and unofficial magical green thumbs!

TCF 15 working on the beautification of the outside gate and adding flowers to help pollinate the fruits and vegetables farm.

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