2023 Volunteer of the Year – Kory Wood

Kory’s infectious enthusiasm, operational skill, and limitless creativity make him an invaluable extension of the Boston Community Gardens staff. The Trustees is thrilled to be able to name Kory Wood as its 2023 Volunteer of the Year!

Kory Wood is a force to be reckoned with,” according to Jordan Takvorian, Boston Community Gardens Stewardship Manager for The Trustees. “He stepped into a leadership role as garden coordinator two years ago, and he hasn’t slowed yet!” Founded in 1955, Worcester Street Garden is one of the oldest community gardens in Boston, and with more than 150 plots it is also one of the city’s largest.

Among his many initiatives, Kory welcomes new gardeners into the space with a pamphlet he created that provides information on what supplies are available and what to know about the sun levels in different parts of the garden. He looks for opportunities to bring gardeners together, hosting weekly group projects to clean and maintain communal areas and social events so neighbors can learn from each other, share food and favorite recipes.

Kory’s ideas are boundless, and he puts them quickly into action. A few of his innovations include creating an efficient way to manage the garden’s compost and devising with a flag system to signal when someone is on vacation so neighboring gardeners can keep their plots watered while they’re away. He coordinated an effort to rebuild crumbling raised bed planters and make them more accessible. He developed a relationship with the nearby Hurley School, which has made trips to the garden part of their K-4 curriculum. And he has established a Gardeners Give Back Day, which this year provided nearly 100 pounds of fresh produce to an organization that distributes food across the city.

Earlier this fall we sat down with Kory to hear about his volunteerism with The Trustees and some of his favorite things about being the garden coordinator for Worcester Street Garden.  Read on for some highlights and watch the full video below.

Q: Can you tell us about where we are?

A: Worcester Street Garden is nearly 65 years old, founded in 1955. We have 150 members. We’re one of the largest community gardens in the city.

Q: Tell me a little bit about when you first came here and how you got started with the garden.

A: The garden put out an email in 2021 asking if anyone wants to take over the coordinator position for the garden. My background is in operations, so I jumped at it. I live right here, so I’m able to basically always be around the garden. I love helping out, so I just decided to dive right in.

Q: What is it like to have this space available to you?

A: It means a lot because it’s a gem in the South End. I mean, you can see behind me there’s a really tall skyscraper. It’s just amazing to have this space dedicated forever for gardening and to have families from all over Boston have access to nutritious food.

Being a part of this community means a lot to me because we have 150 members that have access to nutritious food, and it’s a gem. It’s in the middle of the city, it’s very quiet, it’s tranquil, and I think that’s really rare to come by in the bustling city like Boston.

Q: What is a typical day kind of like for you when you come here and work?

A: A typical day in the garden is usually kind of an inside joke at this point. I come and tend to my own garden, but if I say to my husband, “I’m going to be here for 15 minutes,” I’m usually here for two hours because a lot of people come up to me and they either give feedback about things that they’ve seen that they love or they want something implemented.

I just really enjoy all of the social interaction and all the people I’m getting to meet. Yeah, usually I’m here in the garden for a few hours if I’m coming here.

Q: Will you tell me a little bit about what the garden community is like here, some of the people that you see, what it’s like to interact with them?

A: Yeah. We have all types of people that garden here. We have some members that have been members for 30 years. We have some members that have perennials that were planted by their parents that they still care for today.

We have a subsidized membership for only $20 for anyone that needs it. Really no questions asked. We have a lot of gardeners that have never gardened before either, so we focused a lot this year on gardener education, making sure that people know the basics. We implemented a membership portal so that everyone has access to information to be successful.

Q: I know one of the things that you focused a lot on is just different improvements. Can you talk to me about some of the different things that you’ve done in projects this year?

A: Yeah. Gardner experience was a big one this year. The biggest improvement was the trash management. The members volunteer to remove the trash, and actually bring it to my house.

We partnered with Black Earth Compost to pick up our organic yard waste weekly on Saturday mornings, which has been a huge improvement for the community.

The hoses all have QR codes on them now so that gardeners can report if there’s an issue, if there’s a leak, then we get notified of it. That was definitely a big improvement this year.

We organized a bulk straw order at the beginning of the season, which was a big pain point for our gardeners. A lot of people don’t have a car. It’s stressful getting these bigger bulkier items, so we had all that delivered.

An idea from one of our other leadership team members that’s been a hit is the vacation flag, which is a purple flag that goes in your plot to let your neighbors know that you’ve gone on vacation and that you need help watering.

That was stressful for gardeners to basically try and find another member to ask if they can water their plot, so now there’s that visual marker so that you can get help.

Q: What is it like to the community? How does it not only benefit the gardeners but the community to have the space?

A: Coming out of COVID in 2021, we had a lot of gardeners actually coming out to the garden because, number one, it’s outdoors, and that was safe. Then, we had a lot of rebuilding to do with the community because a lot of those programs were halted during the pandemic.

A big focus this year was reconnecting with the community. We have a number of programs in place today that I’m really proud of. The first would be we have the K through four Hurley School, which is just a couple blocks away, all their … We had four or five classes come to garden. They made that part of their curriculum. We have an adult with disabilities program, the House of Possibilities, coming here as well.

We also had Gardeners Give Back day this year, which is a day that we told all of our members that if there’s produce that they want to donate to Lovin’ Spoonfuls, who distributes it across the city, to come that day and to fill some coolers with produce. We donated almost 90 pounds of fresh produce to Lovin’ Spoonfuls. They were thrilled and they want to come back every year.

Q: Can we talk more about some of the things that have happened in the garden this year?

A: We had a corporate volunteer day this year on Earth Day where we rebuilt some raised beds using wood that we went to Home Depot and purchased and hauled here. They’re ADA compliant, so they’re about waist height. We have a number of gardeners that live in the affordable housing building right here that are a little bit older or they have a walker, so that was really important to have a couple raised beds for them.

Q: Can you talk a little bit about how it seems like you guys aren’t just caring for your individual plots, but you’re caring for each other?

A: We definitely want to make sure that everyone can garden here and have a great time and be supported.

We do a lot for each other in the community. If someone needs help, and we reach out to them and we ask them if they need help with their plot, we’ll post a volunteer shift and ask another gardener to help out, care for someone else’s plot. If they had surgery or if they’re pregnant or they just need help in general, we want people to be definitely offering to help the community.

We also have a lot of events. We have a barbecue each year and we try and get people together. We’ll grill some vegetables and we’ll have beer and wine. We also had a number of events that were family-oriented.

We’ve had a tremendous amount of volunteering this year from all of our community members. We log when someone comes to the garden to help out. I’m really proud that we’ve had over 150 hours this year in volunteerism.

Q: What is one of the most challenging things you face here in the garden?

A: Managing an outdoor space is hard. Structures need maintenance, so we’ve created a bit of an operating schedule with the predictable tasks that we have each year. Trimming back certain plants, caring for the communal spaces, and just really having the right partners to help us maintain the space.

Q: What did it feel like to be nominated and recognized by people for the work you’ve done? How did you find out? Where were you?

A: I think I was about to leave for my honeymoon. It feels really amazing to be recognized and to be nominated at all. I just come to the garden every day, looking forward to meeting new people and doing what I can for the community, so I was really thrilled when I heard. I’m just so excited.

Q: Can you talk a little bit about just your vision for the future of the garden?

A: Yeah. The garden’s future is really bright. We have so many people now that are stepping up and offering to help even more because they see the invigoration in the community, they see all the amazing things happening. I feel grateful and lucky to have a community of folks that all want to band together and help out and make this the gem that it really is.

Q: Is there anyone you’d like to thank?

A: I definitely want to thank the leadership team: Ellen, Sonia, Kate, and all of the newer members that have joined us as well this year, and of course everyone that’s volunteered.

It’s been a huge community effort to revitalize the garden. Like I said, even after COVID we had to put some extra effort in. I feel like we’ve gone above and beyond, and it’s a really beautiful space.

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