Gardens and gargoyles: Dilapidated churches grow into urban farms

Wondering what the future could hold for one of the city’s most beloved church buildings? Find out with author BJ Hill in the Sun’s serial glimpse into the fantastic (and mostly fictional) possibilities of a not-so distant tomorrow.

WORCESTER, June 9, 2019 – Within the city of Worcester there are 12 former church buildings that are facing the wrecking ball. Three of these buildings date back to the 1880s. They are cherished, sacred spaces where generations of parishioners married, baptized children, and said their goodbyes to loved ones. But in the last few decades, congregations of every faith have thinned out. While a giant extravagant property was once a symbol of reverence and success for a parish, now it’s become maintenance headaches for cash-strapped finance committees.

Some congregations sought to let go of the buildings, but developers know it’s daunting to repurpose thick cement walls, redesign a cavernous interior, and maintain the cultural and historical legacy.

Some church buildings were sold to the highest bidder, anyway, to await uncertain futures. With uninterested new owners and a minimum of maintenance, the once-mighty cornerstones of communities now decay and molder until they’re no longer safe to keep standing.

But a local company called Altar2Table is on a preservation campaign to purchase the properties and fix them up for what once would have been considered a most unlikely use: urban farms.

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Altar2Table’s first purchase was Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church on Mulberry Street, which was officially closed by the Diocese of Worcester in 2016. After a year of renovations, the farm commenced operations in January 2019 and yielded its first harvest in April.

Immigrants thrive as Worcester bucks nationwide labor crisis

Author BJ Hill takes us on a fantastic, fictional voyage into the possibilities of a not-too-distant tomorrow in the latest installment of What if … Worcester, the Sun’s serial glimpse into the future.

Worcester’s Long View Pays Off

Thanks to progressive immigration policies, Worcester is dodging a national labor shortage that is crippling similar cities.
WORCESTER, Feb. 19, 2034 — Friday, Feb. 24, will be Ron Gopinski’s 70th birthday. It will also be his last day of work at the Abbott-UMass Memorial Medical Center. After 32 years as an accounts representative in the purchasing department, Gopinski is enjoying the transition to retired life. For Abbott-UMass, his retirement marks a transition of a historical sort, as Gopinski is the hospital’s last full-time employee from the Baby Boomer generation.

Baby Boomers are defined as those born in the post-World War II years between 1946 and 1964. The generation comprised the largest percentage of the population, and the workforce, between approximately 1970 to 2025. But beginning in 2011, when the first of the Boomers turned 65 and began to retire, human resource departments around the country noticed a worrying trend: There were fewer qualified applicants applying for their jobs.

It wasn’t a matter of wages or education, they found, but rather the simple fact that there were less people from the succeeding generations, the Gen Xers and the Millennials, in the labor pool.

The effect has throttled companies of all sizes as they compete to find candidates to take their openings. But Worcester employers — notably the AbbVie-LakePharma companies and Coghlin GreenPower — enjoy a competitive advantage created by the city’s progressive views toward immigration earlier this century.

Martian returns home: Native-born astronaut spent 185 days on Red Planet

WORCESTER, July 20, 2069 — Worcester’s first native-born astronaut was welcomed back to her hometown yesterday with a parade and the Key to the City. Dr. Riham Ahmadi, a veterinarian, was crew member on the recent Ares 11 mission, which returned from Mars after a 22-month voyage.

The parade, featuring Unum-sponsored hovercrafts and antique internal-combustion-engined cars from the late 2010s, left the campus of WPI on Salisbury Street, and proceeded south on Main Street to City Hall.

“This is truly a great day for the city of Worcester,” said Massachusetts Gov. Amy Collins during a speech on the steps facing City Hall/Commerce Bank Plaza. “As our nation’s space program moves forward, Dr. Riham Ahmadi adds her name to the list of astronauts who light our way with their courage and scientific integrity.”

As the governor, Congressman Paul Tyson-Burgess, family members, and spectators looked on, third-term Mayor Shanique DeTorres presented Dr. Ahmadi the Petty Memorial Key to the City.

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Non-Starter Home: ‘Smart’ house tangles data, holds College Hill family hostage

WORCESTER, Jan. 7, 2046 — A young family living on Worcester’s College Hill is what they describe as “trapped by their home,” unable to move out because the essential bioinformatic data stored within is non-transferable.

Steve and Rosa Wingartner met at the College of the Holy Cross, and married soon after graduation. They decided to stay in Worcester as Mrs. Wingartner attended the Deval Patrick Law School at Worcester State University.

“All our friends joked that we were doing the old-fashioned thing,” said Mrs. Wingartner with a laugh. “Less than a year after graduating from college, we were married and had purchased a house.”

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The house they purchased was a medium-sized ranch off of College Street. “It was a flip job, everything inside was brand new, and the price was too good to beat,” said Mr. Wingartner. To sweeten the deal, Juniper Construction had added a basic-level bioinformatic — or “bi-fo” — panel to the home.

Dateline 2049 — Worcester HQ keeps firefighters safe across the country

WORCESTER, Dec. 3, 2049 — On this Friday night in December, as firefighters from a dozen different cities rush into danger, they have guardian angels in Worcester working tirelessly to keep them safe.

Worcester is home to the nation’s first Firefighter Research and Monitoring Extraction System, or FRAMES. Begun in 2044, FRAMES is used by more than 300 fire departments around the country and will soon expand its Skyline Drive headquarters.

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FRAMES is the brainchild of Drs. Stephen Cho and Ling Wang, who first met while studying Fire Protection Engineering at WPI in the 2030s.

“As undergrads, we helped to improve wearable, bendable biosensors that would monitor respiration rate, blood pressure and heart rate,” Wang said.

“For our Master’s project, we interned with the Worcester Fire Department and tested heat-resistant, fast-deploying drones to triangulate the exact location of firefighters within a building. The next step, for our doctorates, was to send that information back to a neutral location to collect, analyse and inform,” Wang added.


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