An Urban Tropical Oasis

By Ruby Maddox

A few weeks ago I got a call to come down and check out a school garden at the Peck-Lawrence School in Holyoke, MA. Since my background in Urban Agriculture, it’s not uncommon to be contacted on topics related to urban gardens.

At first I thought it was a little odd to do a garden site visit in the middle of winter. Most school gardens in this area are pretty dormant during this time of year, but I went anyway. Boy, was I glad I did.

This is how I came to meet Gerardo Muñoz and his “El Yunque”.

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El Yunque (named after an actual National Forest reserve in Puerto Rico) is the Tropical Garden project at Peck-Lawrence School run by, outreach worker, Gerardo Muñoz. Quite a few people pass through El Yunque, always commenting on the breathtaking view and the ambiance that Muñoz personally works to create. Upon entering the classroom space, the visitor is immediately transported into a tropical oasis filled with rare and distinct plants similar to that of the real El Yunque.

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In addition to the trees and plants Muñoz displays different artifacts from Puerto Rican culture and refers to them throughout his presentation.  Muñoz believes that by creating spaces like El Yunque youth and other community members are given the opportunity to learn about various aspects of Puerto Rican heritage and the role the plants play in that heritage.

The garden has been featured in many local publications including Mass Live. The entire project run and funded by Muñoz, who utilizes donations from various community resources, to keep El Yunque going. Donations of plant pots, soil, plants, garden decorations, and monetary contributions are always accepted.

If you’d like to contribute to El Yunque or if you’d like to arrange a visit contact gmunoz@hps.holyoke.ma.us

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