Two neighboring towns, Readsboro and Stamford, have taken that mission to heart, particularly as it relates to cultivating community-based gardens and conducting outreach to achieve the involvement of local schools, organizations, and residents.
Both towns have passionate organizers who insist that the spotlight remain on the many people involved and the projects themselves that have brought well-deserved attention to a concept as old as community itself.
In Stamford, Helen Fields, a middle school teacher, gave some background on the Stamford Community Garden that is still in its infancy, having had its first harvest last month. Fields credits the “germination” of the idea to the late Stamford librarian, Trish Carlson, who wanted to build a more resilient, sustainable community.
“She and C.J. Vadnais started a seed library at the Stamford Library,” said Fields. “The Library Committee brought folks together to move her dream forward and hosted seed-saving meetings.”
The Stamford Vermont Seed Savers was the result and from there sprang the idea for a garden that could provide food to the elementary school and anyone in town who wanted a share.
Member Joseph Tracy said, “One of the best moments was when we all gathered for the first work day; this brought out community members who had not known one another, and we all felt a strong sense of unity and caring.” Another member said her favorite part of the summer was having young adults show up and start working and laughing and having fun.
Fields said, “This was the best summer of my life.”
Fields’ backstory sheds a light on her involvement and enthusiasm for the project. While teaching she developed a school garden program that ultimately led to her sustainable living course provided as an alternative to home economics and shop. Students work in the garden during and after school, on the farm that they built and in the 20-foot by 70-foot greenhouse. Fields incorporated the farm and garden into her social studies curriculum.
“My goal,” said Fields, “is a successful program involving the classroom, after-school, and summer school to feed the school and also the Kitchen Cupboard, a food pantry for the needy.”
When plans for the garden began to take hold in March it was decided to build “the barn” on the old tennis court behind the Stamford Elementary School, considered ideal for the project because there would be few weeds and no predators due to the fencing.
Organizers sought and received permission from the Stamford Selectboard and in June the first building party was held.
In the meantime, the group applied for and was approved for a grant of $1,000 from the New England Grassroots Education Fund. Fields said the grant would help to get a watering system for the garden. “People are welcome to work in it, help, sit, plan.”
Carlson’s dream for a more sustainable community expands from the garden to winter workshops on topics such as composting and fostering understanding of the harvest in all its meanings and purpose.
In Readsboro, a story with striking similarities emerges.
Also just completing its first growing year, the Community Giving Garden was the brainchild of Jim Franzinelli, a Readsboro Selectboard member and part-time technology teacher at Stamford Elementary School.
Inspired by an article he read on sustainability in Mother Earth News and his involvement with the local Lions Club delivering food to the needy, Franzinelli began talking to friends and neighbors about building the garden.
Both Franzinelli and Fields believe that raised beds can be just as productive, more efficient, and easier to maintain than the traditional in-ground garden.
Resident Elaine Dove was instrumental in the garden’s inception.
“We went to the pastor of Readsboro’s St. Joachim Catholic Church for permission to use land on church property,” said Franzinelli, “and he was supportive. We approached the Parish Council and they approved it as well.”
After that, Franzinelli and Dove reached out to the American Legion, the Lions, the Ladies of St. Ann, and others for donations to help get the project off the ground. Franzinelli said that topsoil from Barkus Excavating and compost from TAM Waste Management were purchased at a discount and High Mowing Seeds, of Woolcott, gave the group 50 packets of seeds.
“Mark Lowe, Sue Bailey, Jim Cerrone, and others donated their time,” Franzinelli said, “and Asplundh Tree Service contributed wood chips.”
In early spring, the garden was started. Carrots, kale, spinach, Swiss chard, tomatoes, green and purple beans, beets, radishes, turnips, and several varieties of squash were produced.
According to Franzinelli, the mission of the Giving Garden was to raise awareness and money for the food pantry in Wilmington. Because the pantry only accepted donations once a month, the decision was made to hold mini farmers’ markets after church services, sell the produce, and give the proceeds to the pantry.
“We raised over $400,” Franzinelli said, “and we’ve already had requests to expand the garden and build more beds next year. We also want to encourage people to grow their own gardens.”
As in Stamford, the community support and encouragement were keys to success and viability.
Today, community gardens are global, in poorer parts of the world by necessity but in wealthier countries they are an effort to combat hunger among the underserved, address the extreme waste in commercially produced food, focus on a healthier environment, and hopefully make a dent in global warming.
Stamford and Readsboro are part of a thriving movement that their organizers hope will move other communities to do the same.