Edible Schoolyard News: Garden Grows Community Along With Vegetables

Edible Schoolyard News: Garden Grows Community Along With Vegetables
Velma Anne Ruth - Sat May 31, 2014 @ 03:13PM
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Bettylou Sandy, background, works with kids tilling the soil, as about 15 children from the Neighbors For Kids afte- school program work a variety of jobs to build raised community garden beds at located in the grounds of the Eastside Neighborhood Resource Center on Spruce Street in Manchester, Monday, April 28, 2014, in Manchester.

Garden Grows Community Along With Vegetables
By David Huck Journal Inquirer

Posted: Tuesday, April 29, 2014 11:59 am

MANCHESTER — For years, East Side resident and expert gardener Bettylou Sandy has envisioned turning a small parcel of land alongside the youth center on Spruce Street into a community garden.

The spot by the old firehouse receives plenty of sun, and the soil is largely rich with nutrients, making it prime for growing vegetables.

It’s just needed a few eager minds and hands to take root.

Last week, 14 students started seeds that will eventually grow into peas, lettuce, and spinach outside the East Side Neighborhood Resource Center, where they’ve helped to transform the small strip of land into four raised garden beds in a neighborhood largely dominated by package and convenience stores.

The third-, fourth-, and fifth-graders are part of an after-school program called Neighbors for Kids and will maintain the gardens until school lets out in June, when they will harvest their crops.

Then area residents will have the opportunity to adopt a plot and plant their own vegetables that they will tend throughout the summer and fall.

Sandy said she has been talking with town officials for several years trying to get a community garden started near the now-closed Nathan Hale Elementary School as a way to provide residents with greater access to fresh food and as a gathering spot to engage neighbors.

“The whole neighborhood has had a lot of disappointments from the town, the last one being the taking away of the local elementary school,” said Sandy, who teaches organic gardening classes at Manchester Community College, where she helped establish the successful 39-plot community garden on the campus there.

With pitchforks churning over the soil, hands sifting dirt, and hammers banging in nails, the students have been working alongside Sandy and local carpenter Kurt Ravenwood in recent weeks constructing the 4-by-8-foot beds.

Ravenwood said the gardens teach students the concept of self-determination — growing one’s own food — and give them something to proudly take ownership of.

“I believe that the best way to teach someone something is to get their hands right into it,” Ravenwood said.

The East Side Livable Neighborhood Group provided funding for the lumber, while Sandy donated the seeds and stone for drainage.

The students are also getting lessons in soil sciences — a soil test revealed the ground needed a touch of lime, while other days there are teachings on the importance of bugs and their role in keeping the ground fertile.

Students will get to take home some of the vegetables, while others might get sold during an East Side neighborhood flea market June 14. The students will staff the table and decide what to do with the proceeds.

Gardens are surprisingly prevalent throughout the Spruce Street neighborhood, Sandy said — they’re just a little hidden. On walks throughout the neighborhood, Sandy said she has taken photographs of several homes where people have small vegetable gardens. Others have plants growing in buckets on their front porch or on trellises.

She’s hoping to encourage more of that with the community plots. “The more people that grow their own food the healthier the population will be,” Sandy said.

Depending on the interest from residents and the success in finding more land in the neighborhood, Sandy says she’d like to see at least 10 other plots established on Spruce Street.

“There’s a great need for healthy food and an alternative activity for people in the neighborhood,” Sandy said. “By starting a community garden, people have the opportunity to be outside with other neighborhood residents, get to know each other better, and have fresh air, sunshine, and exercise.”

The idea for the gardens grew out of a recently established group called the Manchester Area Sustainability Cooperative that Sandy and others began as a way to build connections with other community volunteer groups and share resources.

Aside from the community garden initiative, the group also wants to start a composting program at apartment complexes.

Sandy and Ravenwood say they are hoping to establish other community gardens in town, such as at the Music Makers Academy on Hartford Road or in the town’s schoolyards. They received the backing to create plots at Verplanck Elementary School and will start on those next year.

“Any school yard is great,” Ravenwood said. “It’s in the neighborhood. The kids and parents are there every day, which is important, because you have to take care of the garden every day.”

http://www.journalinquirer.com/page_one/garden-grows-community-along-with-vegetables/article_43cbc9f6-cfb7-11e3-8355-001a4bcf887a.html

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