Project Spotlight: Community Servings
This past spring I had the opportunity to work with Community Servings to design and plant an herb garden at the entrance of their new building in Jamaica Plain. As a not-for-profit food and nutrition program, Community Servings serves individuals and families living with critical and chronic illnesses throughout Massachusetts. In addition to creating and distributing appealing, nutritious meals to clients, families and caregivers, Community Servings does significant work in food and health policy, job training, nutrition education and local food initiatives.
The herb garden was the idea and vision of David Waters, Community Servings CEO. As a gardener himself, he feels that having a garden as part of a landscape is really important, and notes that people don’t always make the connection between plants in the ground as plants we eat. Given the organization’s mission, the herb garden represents thriving and healthy food while welcoming staff, visitors and volunteers. “Community Servings is about beautiful food and healthy eating; using food in the context of health care,” David says. The new herb garden is a representation of what the organization is about, and he says “it makes me smile every time I walk by it.”
The outlines of the five beds were drawn into the plans for the new building and landscape, so as an herbalist and garden designer, I got to focus on the best part: the plants! Each bed has a theme and the plants are based on input and requests from the culinary staff as well as David’s overall vision of a lush, inviting, healthy looking garden.
The “evergreen” plot has culinary herbs such as sage, thyme, oregano, parsley, and rosemary, the adjacent mint plot has many varieties of mints, planted within pots underground to keep from spreading, anise hyssop, tarragon and lemon balm. The “flower-power” bed, nearest to the front entrance, hosts some rose, bee balm, violet, and wintergreen.
The other two plots are a mix of annuals with some perennial borders: many varieties of peppers including lunchbox, jalapeño, and cayenne, and several types of basil: purple, thai basil, and sweet basil. Lemongrass plants echo the grasses of the surrounding landscape, along with chives, onions and holy basil. Bearberry, sedum, and creeping thyme create borders or ground cover for the stepping stones winding throughout the gardens in the shape of a C and an S, for Community Servings.
The beds also sit below the new teaching kitchen, which houses a job-training program for those seeking careers in the food service industry who face barriers to employment.
I was amazed when I spoke with Community Servings Executive Chef Brian Hillmer, who said that before the herb garden was planted, they would purchase about 15 pounds of fresh herbs per week. Now, the kitchen primarily sources fresh herbs from the garden on site, during the growing season. “It is inspirational to become more of a closed circuit of an operation; not just consuming but also producing,” Brian said. Having a garden on site, there is a sense of “taking care of what is taking care of us.”
I have been astonished at the abundance created in this garden in just the first season. I am always amazed by the simplicity and abundance of plants, what struggles, what thrives each year. It’s different from season to season, a beautiful folding in and out of rebirth, growth, fruiting and flowering, receding and returning to earth again. As an herbalist, gardener, educator and designer, I love to foster connection between people and plants. This garden represents this connection very immediately – whatever is harvested is being used for healthy, nutritious meals.
In addition, the garden sits between the entrance of the new building and a walkway from the street to the train station, so the surrounding community can view the garden as it grows throughout the season. During the warmer months, kitchen staff can now go to the garden to harvest fresh herbs as needed.
“We are intentionally seeking out a better product, and to have a better system to serve clients,” Chef Brian Hillmer said. “We want to provide something exceptional…the herb garden is an example of that.”