A Leader for a Growing Movement
A profile of Cathy Neal, founder of Bountiful Brookline.
Editor's note: To mark the end of 2010, we though we'd take a moment to recognize a few people who helped make Brookline a better community last year. But since our town is already rife with do-gooders and philanthropists, we wanted to focus some of the up-and-coming community players in Brookline, the ones who have appeared only recently on the scene and still found their own way to make a mark. Think there's somebody else we should highlight? It's not too late to write in and let us know.
Have you ever met somebody with ideas so big and ill-defined that you couldn't help but doubt anything would come of them?
That was my reaction when I met Cathy Neal at a garden work party on Kent Street two summers ago and she tried to tell me about her plans for a big urban agriculture program she called Bountiful Brookline. She had big ideas and a great name for her organization, but little else to show me. I doubted her from the start.
So I think Cathy was more than a little pleased when I admited last week that I was sold on everything she was doing. Though Bountiful Brookline is still maturing and seeking to define its mission, I told her, it has more than proved itself to be an organization Brookline needs right now. And if you've been to any of Bountiful Brookline's events, from the Edible Gardens Tour to Spring Into Gardening, you already know this to be true.
A landscape architect and public planner by training, Cathy got the idea for Bountiful Brookline after talking with other community leaders about the growing local food movement and her desire to give all Brookline residents access to healthy, locally produced food. Though its purpose wasn't always so clear, its mission was: Help people produce food.
"My sense was no one else was doing that, specifically focused on food," Cathy told me the other day. "There hadn't been some kind of umbrella effort to say, 'What's going on around town and who can help to gather that all together?'"
To be sure, Cathy is not the only force behind the organization. Bountiful Brookline benefits from the hard work of dozens of volunteers, partner organizations and business sponsors, without whom it could not do what it does. But anyone involved will tell you its Cathy energy—which can be exhausting just to witness—that propels their efforts.
"It gets us off our butts and saying, 'We've got to help you because you've put something really good on my plate, but you're looking a little tired,'" said Michael Gould, a veteran who now organizes a community vegetable garden Cathy started at the High Street public housing complex. "What that does it gets the best people to get involved for her."
Like me, Michael remarked on the sheer volume of ideas that come out of Cathy's mind. In his words: "She's got too many good ideas for one person to do, I'll tell you that much."
In addition to hosting several well attended events and starting the garden on High Street, Bountiful Brookline has taken over a showcase garden at the Brookline Community Foundation that now regularly contribute fresh produce to the Brookline Emergency Food Pantry; secured grant funding to start a small agriculture education program last summer and hire several interns to help with outreach and administration; and started discussions about a town-wide schoolyard gardening program.
But despite its successes, Cathy tells me Bountiful Brookline is at crossroads in its evolution. The next six months, she said, will determine whether it can make the leap from community initiative to community organization.
But whatever happens, Cathy know she's already made a difference.
"If Bountiful Brookline has put the topic of food production in Brookline on the able—no pun intended—then we have done something if it causes more people to talk about it," she said.
I couldn't agree more. I'm writing this article, aren't I?