By Giovanny Guzman
Many people don’t realize the importance of the communities that they, or others, are a part of.
It may be because they feel that they are “forced” into communities, such as churches, schools, sports teams, etc. But Salem, MA’s Green Space is not like that; joining Green Space is a choice made by people seeking to surround themselves in—and spread—positivity as much as possible.
Green Space is a local garden, funded by the Salem YMCA, that was started by Matt Buchanan, a teacher from Salem High School, two other students from the high school, and myself.
In Green Space’s case, people might not realize the importance of the community because of its first impression.
Before getting involved with the Green Space community, people tend to have negative thoughts of it because of where it is located, the kind of people who are a part of the community, and even simply because of how new the community itself is.
Green Space is just a book with a cover that sometimes repels people.
Typically, community gardens are separate plots that individuals rent out for their own use, or a garden belonging to a company that will sell their freshly grown food for profit.
Green Space is different, though, partly because of the fact that everything grown here in the garden is not sold at all.
Not for a dime, nor a hundred dollars.
All the produce is given out for free to the surrounding communities. Every day there are new people walking by, telling us that what we’re doing is great.
We never ask people outside of the community to come and help with the garden, but people who have no gardening experience still come by to help with whatever they can. With a retirement home in walking distance, and in the middle of “The Point” neighborhood, we are more than happy to welcome anyone of any age, race, color, or religion. We even have a ten-foot distance between garden beds for handicapped folks to feel just as welcomed as anyone else.
People like Matt Buchanan (the garden director for Green Space ) have had very impactful experiences while being a part of this community.
“I used to sometimes get down on the world and have a negative view on people in general, but seeing everyone in such a positive environment is really inspiring and gives me hope in every individual,” said Matt.
It’s truly a blessing to be a part of this community. If only the ones outside of the community knew how much of a blessing it actually is.
There are so many false assumptions that “outsiders” have about Green Space. Andrea, for example, is a citizen of Salem and the mother of a member of the community. Andrea didn’t know what Green Space is, or its purpose; all she knew was that her son, Jorge, comes to Green Space every other day or so to “hang out.”
“Jorge knows I get upset when he goes to that place because of the kind of neighborhood it is in. I’m not sure if I trust the people around there,” she remarked.
She continued to imply that the kids at Green Space are a bad influence on her 13-year-old son.
I told her that her opinion on Green Space is very understandable, but she was shocked when I told her what it is really all about: changing the lives of the Salem community, through the work of a smaller community — Green Space.
Once she understood this, she told Jorge how proud of him she was for doing the things he’s been doing, getting involved in something on his own that is changing the city of Salem.
Andrea actually has a very typical mentality towards the community. The “dangerous” surrounding neighborhood and the “bad influence” teenagers that people see as a part of the community are what scares the outsiders from becoming insiders.
Communication is what expands the community. It helps to attract outsiders to the community, and carries Green Space to another level.
We have had countless members of Salem see what this community is all about. People from different backgrounds and different types of intellectuals, such as the mayor of Salem, members of city council, college professors, business owners, children of all ages, and more have visited.
We travel the city to teach people from all corners of the city, including elementary school students and college students at Salem State University, about the concept of gardening. Furthermore, we travel to surrounding struggling gardens for help to bring the gardens back to life.
Green Space’s deeper meaning is something that should be understood by everyone, whether they are a part of the community or not.
“Nobody ‘owns’ the garden,” said Buchanan. “It’s a collaboration between the City of Salem, the YMCA, the school system, and the community.”