by Carla Occaso
MONTPELIER — What could you do if you have a big lawn besides mowing it? Start a garden. Several downtown homeowners and organizations are doing just that.
In many cases, gardens got started with someone looking at an expanse of lawn and thinking, “I could put a garden there.”
The Garden at Another Way
Another Way, on 125 Barre St., had a fairly big bit of land behind the building. This space has become a prolific volunteer-tended community garden thanks to a frugally-minded staff member. Since coming aboard as an employee, Amiee Powers started the garden and now manages it along with her more typical office duties. Her title? Office and garden manager.
“I started working on the gardens when I started working at Another Way — about six years ago. Back then we had four beds. I was hired as the food manager and I was trying to offer more fresh veggies and fruits and not take so much money away from the grant.” She said she looked behind the building and noticed a big patch of land.
Another Way is an nonprofit community center that offers a safe place for “psychiatric survivors” to hang out during the day, participate in activities and find support. Two meals a week are offered free to community members: Friday dinners and Wednesday breakfasts.
Tending the garden is one of many activities people can do there. A core group of about five to 12 Another Way community members tend the garden from seedlings through harvest, Powers said. Several years into the project, the garden has grown from four to 20 beds of vegetables and flowers.
This year a focus will be reaching out to the greater community to include Barre, Montpelier and Northfield. Powers is hoping to attract volunteers to water, harvest and weed if they want. She also wants to work on the banks to put in flowers in order to attract more bees for pollination.
Edible plants include carrots, zucchini, cherry squash, cucumbers and sunflowers to use for snacks. She also plants thyme, basil, cilantro and lavender. Powers wants those who come to the center to be able to take home fresh food each day, if possible.
“All the folks who come into our center have experienced financial hardship. They are either homeless or in the mental health system. They don’t have much for money, so when it comes to food, they’re hungry.”
Powers is also heading up a fundraiser by having volunteers build and sell wooden garden beds by the first week in May. She started that last year and it went very well. Call 595-2177 to reserve an early spring bed by April 14. Another wave of production will be held later, in May. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Garden at 485 Elm
You don’t have to be a nonprofit organization to start a garden on your lawn. If you drive along Elm Street toward the municipal pool, you will notice a large garden has cropped up on what used to be a spacious grass lawn.
Sheryl Rapee-Adams and her husband, Chris Adams, moved up to Montpelier from Rutland in Oct. 2013. Rapee said she looked out on that lawn, “which we were not into,” and realized she would love to have fresh vegetables. She posted a note on Front Porch Forum to see if anyone else was interested in growing food in exchange for vegetables to get better use for the space. By April 2014 a garden appeared.
“The people who responded were interested in growing together, so a community garden was born,” Rapee-Adams said. In other words, people don’t each have their own individual plots to tend, they, as a group, tend one big garden. They share the tools, the seeds and the tasks to plant, maintain and harvest a garden. About 25 to 30 people are core participants who do the work for around 25 households.
The growing teams are gearing up to plant peas in the coming days, which were harvested throughout the summer last year, Rapee said. She noted each year is a learning experience. This year’s focus is on the soil to create the “healthiest plants imaginable.”
The garden, named The Garden at 485 Elm, is also a site for Certified Master Gardeners and Master Composters to volunteer to either qualify or requalify for certification through the University of Vermont.
Members divvy up the harvest equally, and then they donate the excess food.
As for Rapee-Adams’ favorite food to grow? “I am a ground cherry or husk cherry addict. It is delicious, sweet and tart. It is so calming. I just sit on the ground, pick up a branch and eat.”
At $50 per season, gardeners commit to approximately four to six hours of work per week during growing season.
Other community gardens known to exist in the 05602 are at Montpelier High School, The National Life Group’s property and one property owned by the North Branch Nature Center.