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Local youths look to turn vacant Roxbury lot into food source for community

Posted by Patrick Rosso  October 22, 2012 12:33 PM

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(Patrick D. Rosso/Boston.com/2012)


Youth and area residents clearing out the Ruthven Street lot Saturday.


Fresh and local vegetables could soon be growing out of a vacant Roxbury lot that for the past 10 years has been a haven for drug use, trash, and vandalism.

On Saturday, a group of youth and area residents battled the weeds, broken bottles, and household waste that inhabited the lot on the corner of Ruthven Street and Humboldt Avenue in Roxbury.

For hours the dedicated group, organized by the Roxbury Environmental Empowerment Project or REEP for short, an offshoot of the environmental non-profit Alternatives for Community and Environment, battled the refuse filled lot that in November 2002 was the site of a deadly nine-alarm fire that left one elderly Roxbury resident dead.

Now, the lot sits unused with just the burnt out foundation poking out from the weeds, driving down near-by property values and creating a headache for neighbors.

“This is about turning it [the lot] into a place where neighbors and youth can come and have a space,” said Hakim Sutherland, 17, a Dorchester resident and organizer of REEP’s “Grow or Die” campaign. “We want to get the whole community behind this. We want to show the community how to grow food and use its spaces.”

Armed with shovels, gloves, and wheelbarrows, nearly 15 committed individuals cleared out the lot Saturday; chucking broken toilets, old bricks, and rotted wood into the trash, creating a gathering space for the neighborhood.

Raised beds were also constructed, slowly bringing to shape a future for the lot.

“This lot is really taking away from the neighborhood,” said Brian Browne, 40, a Mission Hill resident. “It’s just sitting here, creating bad things, so we’re using it.”

While the space for many represents a new opportunity for the lot and the community, the group is technically trespassing.

While in disrepair and full of trash, the nearly 8,000 square-foot space is owned by a Douglas Uva and registered to an address in Florida, according to the city’s Assessing Department.

Uva was unable to be reached for a comment and organizers said they haven't been in contact with the property owner.

“We talked to the neighbors about what they wanted to see and many wanted this lot cleaned up,” said Olmis Sanchez, the youth community Organizer for REEP. “Our food is so expensive we wanted to create a sustainable food source for our community and show our youth how to grow food. We want to turn a tragedy into something good.”

Even without the permission of the owner, the teens and neighbors aren’t deterred with many saying if the owner was concerned about the property they would come a clean it up.

“The community should be able to use this space effectively,” Sanchez said. “The neighborhood needs a space to grow their food, and we want them to know they are not alone in this.”

While progress was made Saturday, from filling up trash bags to building grow beds, the lot still needs a lot more love, but many teens said they don’t mind helping out the neighborhood, one trash filled lot at a time.

“We want to make it our job to make food and a safe place available for the community,” Sutherland said as he battled with a root determined to stay stuck in the ground.

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(Patrick D. Rosso/Boston.com/2012)


Youth and area residents clearing out the Ruthven Street lot Saturday.


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Email Patrick D. Rosso, patrick.d.rosso@gmail.com. Follow him @PDRosso, or friend him on Facebook.

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