Winthrop Street People’s Garden

By Tara Register and Alexander Lynn

Leo Dickerson was a visionary. In 1991, he purchased a 4-unit building on Winthrop Street. What others saw as a rundown drug house, in a crime infested community, he saw could become his sun-filled palace where he could spend the rest of his life, and the legacy that he would leave to his children and grandchildren.

Across the street from the property was a trash-strewn empty lot, but he and other neighbors saw the potential for what would become the Winthrop Street Community Garden. With help from the City and urban garden groups, they removed the trash, brought in clean soil and put in a water line. They created plots that were available free of charge to residents willing to put in the work. And they created a meeting place where members, many of whom had Southern roots, were able to work the soil and shoot the breeze. Joe Adams was there every day, always willing to water someone else’s plot if it looked dry, and planting flowers to beautify the space.

Leo loved being able to look out the window of his 4th floor apartment and see his garden. Growing up in Texas, he worked summers on his grandfather’s farm in Elmo, and wherever he lived, he made sure he always had a place for a garden, even if it meant growing vegetables in 5-gallon plastic containers. He passed on his love of gardening to his children and now his grandchildren, great grands and his newest little great, great grandson, who have carried on in his memory at the Winthrop Street Community Garden.

Over the years, Joe Adams became the overseer and was known for keeping the garden immaculately clean and for inviting community residents to participate.

In the last ten years, the meaning and purpose of the Garden grew to meet the changing times. Many of us, Mary Hodge, Wendy Bivens, Yvonne Hodge, Nancy Smith, Donna Bivens, Curdina Hill, Alexander Lynn, Violet Burch and Leo Dickerson’s grand-daughter Tara Register have lived in the Nubian Square (formerly Dudley) area, or more broadly Boston’s African America, for half a century or more. In the course of that time, the settlers, the Pilgrims, the gentry have been moving African Americans out, taking our land, our houses, moving in their own businesses, and greatly changing the social character of the neighborhood.

It is in these circumstances that we have developed and nurtured a social mission beyond the provision of vegetables to the people. We have a mission to withstand the invasion, to maintain the land, the dignity, respect and righteousness of the African American People’s Freedom Movement. Hence the name Winthrop Street People’s Garden. And, reference to our people’s freedom movement is also in recognition that, while many of us may hold a love for the Diaspora generally, and to Pan Africanism, this Garden Community is membered by one African people, that is, descendants of enslaved Africans in the United States, today called African Americans. All of us are of this one people with the exception of Carlos Rosales who comes to us from northern El Salvador where he administered the socialist collectivization of the peasant farms for the Farabundo Marti Front for National Liberation before he was forced into exile by the U.S. backed military dictatorship in that Central American nation. Carlos, in this regard, is a member in good standing of Winthrop Street People’s Garden. This year, Olha Halyabar has become the newest member of our community group.

Today our skill as farmers has greatly improved. We are currently growing bell peppers, banana peppers, hot peppers of all varieties, cucumbers, tomatoes of numerous varieties, cabbage, collard greens, eggplant, zucchini, squash, lettuce of three varieties, broccoli, oregano, Brussels sprouts, strawberries, okra, green beans, carrots, peas, kale, Swiss chard, Lima beans, wild scallion and more.

Winthrop Street People’s Garden is committed to connecting with and working with all other gardeners, and community groups to meet the needs of our people for land, dignity, respect and for healthy food.