Cultivating Gardens, Family, and Community in Montpelier

by Melisa Oliva

I was born in El Salvador, Central America. After I started to travel, I learned that I could not go back to live in El Salvador and adapt myself again to the social paranoia, which one has to normalize when you live amidst violence, extreme poverty, and a macho culture that can kill women with impunity. Since 2009, I have lived in many countries: Costa Rica, Cuba, Peru, Mexico, Switzerland, India, and the United States.

Before I even dreamt about living in Vermont, some friends from Vermont told me “Vermont is so you! You are going to love it up there!” So in 2013, when I came to visit the man who now is my husband, falling in love “in” Vermont and “with” Vermont seemed quite natural. Vermont was a place with natural beauty and where people care about and protect their resources. What a great place to raise a family, I thought.

Years later, when I was pregnant and our family needed to establish roots, we considered Vermont as probably the best place to do it. My husband Patrick moved to Vermont after finishing a program on organic farming at the University of California, Santa Cruz. He came to Vermont to be part of a farming cooperative in Barnard—The Fable Farm—which was a great group of young people trying to create a vibrant community. He loved it, but there was something missing. He was missing us, his own family, of course!

I met him in El Salvador. I wasn’t even living in El Salvador at the time, just visiting, while finishing a master’s degree in expressive arts therapy in Switzerland. He was in El Salvador on a “farmer-to-farmer” exchange with the Northeast Organic Farmers Association of Vermont.

Before I met him, I had taken an urban gardening program, and my spiritual path as a yoga teacher-vegetarian led me to feel the need to reconnect with nature. I thought the best way to do it would be to learn how to grow my own food, and I wanted to do it in the most respectful and careful way.

By the time our daughter Ananda was born in 2014, organic gardening was at the center of our family, and that is why we ultimately came to Vermont. We were looking for a community that would embrace organic farming and support it. We wanted to be part of the solution and grow our family surrounded by like-minded people. We chose Montpelier because we felt we could bring something important to the community: fresh, organic produce that was convenient and accessible.

Ananda Gardens is the name of our farm. We started it in 2015 on rented land and with the support of a co-housing community on Dillon Road. We started a small Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. I personally deliver produce to our neighbors’ homes. It has been a great way to place us in the organic food market and at the same time connect us with wonderful people.

Last year we found the perfect spot for accomplishing our mission: to serve our community, improve the natural landscape, and promote healthy living. We bought an organic dairy farm on Horn of the Moon Road. Since we moved we have been constantly working to improve the infrastructure and develop a farmstead and farm-based education facilities. We are also increasing our CSA membership for our convenient home delivery.

We plant mostly “core vegetables” such as salad greens, carrots, tomatoes, onions, garlic, peas, beets, radishes, greens (kale, collards, Swiss chard), zucchini, broccoli, squash, cabbages, eggplants, sweet peppers, and herbs. We will have some specialty crops such as turmeric and ginger this year. Also this year we will be planting asparagus, blueberries, and strawberries. These take a while to become established, so they will be available in a couple of years. In the future, we are considering a “pick your own” program for these, but for now just planting them is a very exciting project.

We are currently not sure if we will be at the Capital City Farmers Market. We were last year, but the board has not yet approved us for this year. What we know for sure is we will continue to deliver to our CSA members and a farm stand once a week, every Wednesday from June to October.

Of all the places in the world, I chose Vermont as my home. I honestly feel I am a Vermonter. This is where my daughter learned to talk, both in English and Spanish, this is where my friends are, and this is where I want to be of service to the world. This is home.

Vermont does have an impressive landscape, but there are many other beautiful places in the world. So it is not just Vermont`s beauty that makes us believe in a future here. It is the community, the sense of belonging to a broader project, where we can care for one another and appreciate organic farming as a responsible way to create wellness for ourselves and for the planet. As part of this community, I feel the challenge to support the local economy and organic farming to build a vibrant community. We want Montpelier to be a diverse, welcoming, and vibrant place. Ananda Gardens is our humble offering to all of you. We invite you to know us.

Melisa Oliva is the co-owner of Ananda Gardens

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