WORCESTER, Mass. - Polar Park does more for Worcester residents than just providing them with a great baseball game. WooSox Farms, a garden on the roof of the stadium, grows fresh produce that goes to Worcester residents seeking affordable and healthy food.
“To have within this new park, a space where youth from the Worcester community can come to grow food, to make a difference, that food goes out to the Worcester community members that need it most,” said Steve Fischer, executive director of the Regional Environmental Council of Worcester nonprofit. “It’s really beautiful that that can happen in this new place.”
The garden is managed by the REC’s YouthGROW program, which employs 40 teens ages 14 to 18 to provide job experience and life skills.
All the food is grown on the stadium roof in garden boxes built by YouthGROW participants. The farm started out with 150 boxes, which grew 600 pounds of produce last year, and has expanded to 380 boxes this year. The garden grows strawberries and a wide variety of vegetables.
The program’s growth has not only resulted in more produce, but also more community organizations that can receive the food once it’s harvested in August.
In 2022, everything went to WooFridges, a network of public refrigerators around Worcester where residents in need can take fresh food, and the REC’s mobile farmers market. This year, REC is adding the El Buen Samaritano food pantry and Jermiah’s Inn, which also runs a food pantry, to their distribution network.
The goal is to help Worcester residents fight food insecurity, which is still a concern post-pandemic, advocates say.
“We have no dearth of community partners and food pantries who are doing the great work of getting food to the places and people who need it,” Fischer said. “We’re so happy to be partnering with more of those organizations this year, and we expect in the future as more food is produced on WooSox Farms to partner with even more and more organizations.”
WooSox Farms is used as a teaching tool for REC participants.
“It’s a very different method of growing and a different environment than we normally do,” said Tom Trepanier, farm manager for the REC. “We have other sites where we are growing in ground, growing in raised beds, and you know, now we’re growing in containers on a rooftop, which is new for us.”
Participants of the YouthGROW program get to understand the impact that their labor has on community members. By harvesting the produce from start to finish and also distributing the food to community members, participants are involved in every step of the process.
“It is a great feeling to know that I’m doing something that will support someone, providing for someone that wants access to healthy food and culturally appropriate food and having it be affordable,” said Richlove Boatang, who has worked for YouthGROW since 2020.
Fischer said while the participants are growing food, they’re growing as people as well.
“They see that impact that they are having on the community, and that makes a difference in the future for the impact they feel they can make on their community and their world,” Fischer said.