Shirley Walker

BOSTON (WOMENSENEWS)–It was 10 years ago this month that weeds hid the body of 12-year-old murder victim Takeisha McNickles here. Then, boarded-up windows of vacant triple-deckers stared down on an empty lot littered with broken glass and tires.

Now, three of those buildings are under renovation. What was an abandoned lot is a thriving urban garden. Long beds of potatoes, collards, and eggplant grow here under the careful hands and eyes of the women of the Re-Vision House.

A shelter for homeless mothers and pregnant women in Boston’s urban residential neighborhood of Dorchester, the Re-Vision House also operates an urban farm that has given this once-blighted inner city landscape an atmosphere of hope and growth. On three garden plots, flowers are in bloom and a handsome yield of vegetables is showing forth. Enclosed in greenhouse glass is an aquaculture program capable of raising one ton per year of tilapia, a whitefish similar to sole or flounder.

Executive director Yvonne Miller-Booker said she believes this urban farm provides examples of nourishment, growth and self-sufficiency for the shelter residents, who receive counseling, day care for their children, and training in the basics of independent living. Shelter staff members also help them to find jobs and permanent housing.

Rosetta Hainesworth, 24, lived in the Re-Vision House in 1994. She now works part-time in its farm program and lives in a subsidized apartment close by. Hainesworth spent only seven weeks in the Re-Vision House before she found her new apartment; the usual resident stays for six months to a year.

In addition to help finding housing, Hainesworth said the Re-Vision House taught her what she needed to know to live on her own–things like money management and how to discipline her children.

"A lot of things that I do at home, my daily routines, I got here," she said. "They set an example for us to follow."

Community Farming Produces More Than Food

Residents and staff find it hard to define a direct connection between urban agriculture and the problems of homelessness and single motherhood. However, most of the residents who work part-time on the Re-Vision House farm seem to agree that growing vegetables is therapeutic.

Tacked up on the farm office wall, a quote from former Re-Vision House resident Barbara Roberts reads, "Planting a seed and watching it grow is a wonderful feeling, knowing that you helped it become something really great and useful."

Greenhouse director Judy Lieberman said that sense of responsibility and achievement is fundamental to Re-Vision House residents. Before their arrival, they saw their lives spinning out of control under the difficulties of finding adequate housing and work while meeting the demands of caring for their children.

Homeless mothers "can really see the effect of the things they do," Lieberman said. "That really helps them."

In addition, many who are concerned with food security believe that urban farms like the Re-Vision House can also benefit the community at large. John Cook is one example. Cook conducts research into poverty, food security and hunger for the Boston Medical Center. He said that while small urban farms rarely provide enough to directly impact a local area’s food supply, their intangible effects on communities can bring about greater food security.

Re-vision House Produce

Research on the topic, Cook said, has shown that sharing work and sharing food can create valuable "social capital" within a community and establish a network of mutual support that can keep community members from going hungry. Sociologists measure social capital by asking community members if, for example, they would consider asking to borrow $20 from a neighbor.

"If you participate in a community gardening effort," Cook said, "you build relationships with your neighbors and community that can lead to greater support in time of need."

Originally from Oakland, now living in his adopted hometown of Boston, Galen Moore writes about the two most important things in his life: food and society.

For more information:

Growing Power:

The Community Food Security Coalition:
Urban Agriculture and Community Food Security in the United States:
Farming from the City Center to the Urban Fringe:

American Community Gardening Association: