A Garden Grows Downtown

Joyce Sportsman and I are sitting in front of John S. Park Elementary School, talking about the Jacob Sportsman Memorial Garden, a community garden she hopes to create there together with local sustainable living group Green Jelly. (They’re raising funds now: You can contribute at GreenOurPlanet.org/Jacob.) It’s exciting stuff, and I can’t help but feel righteous just talking about sustainability in a town that rarely gets credit for its environmental awareness.

I wonder if Jacob Sportsman might have felt the same way. The 22-year-old—who died last year when he fell while trying to climb through the cars of a stopped freight train—was a Navy firefighter by profession, described by his mother as a nimble thinker (“He had a monkey mind”) with a caring, well-grounded soul. And as a practicing Buddhist, he had particular ideas about what we put into our bodies, which he’d share with his friends and anyone else who would listen.

“He was a conscious eater, constantly preaching to everyone. If you were chewing gum, he’d ask if there was aspartame in it,” Joyce says. “You had to hide to eat your chocolate cake, because you weren’t going to enjoy it if he was in the room.”

As planned, the Sportsman Garden—with its raised-bed planters for growing vegetables and flowers, a “sensory garden” for special education, and even a gravel labyrinth for teaching walking meditation—would do Jacob proud, as would the fact that it’s intended to educate kids. “The principal here [Lorna M. James-Cervantes] is the real deal,” Joyce says. “She wants it to be part of the curriculum for every subject.”

I’d argue for an even broader application: The Jacob Sportsman Memorial Garden should become part of Downtown’s curriculum. Downtown is in bloom with new restaurants, bars and even a couple of farmers markets, but is almost wholly bereft of the green patches that could furnish those establishments with fresh flowers, herbs and vegetables. The Sportsman Garden could be the model for many more such gardens.

The only drawback is that Jacob himself isn’t around to see it.

“I know Jacob cannot rest; he will always worry,” Joyce says, smiling. “He always did when he was here: ‘You gotta eat right when I’m gone.’”



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