Burgdorf Community Garden is a signature outreach project for Hartford County Master Gardener volunteers. They helped plant and maintain a garden on the grounds of the Burgdorf/Bank of America Health center, a clinic for the underserved in Hartford’s North End. The garden is used to teach nutrition to clients and also provides healthy produce for residents living in a food desert. Along with keeping the garden healthy and productive, Master Gardeners also helped educate area residents about the ability to grow their own healthy food, even with limited space.
In 2014, two Hartford County Master Gardeners worked on the Burgdorf Clinic project with medical students and other clinic volunteers for approximately 125 hours.
The garden opened on June 3rd in 2015, and six Master Gardeners participated. Early work included new soil and weeding. Planting will include tomatoes, beans, greens peppers, herbs, and callaloo.
UConn Extension Master Gardeners work in communities across the state on gardening projects. For instance, through the Gardening Initiative in Vegetable Education (GIVE) program, there are 19 schools with vegetable gardens in Stamford. The model community garden at Middlesex County Extension Center delivers fresh produce to community food banks and soup kitchens. New London County Master Gardeners work with adults with disabilities at Camp Harkness in Waterford. Master Gardeners in Tolland County are teaching students to garden at Natchaug Hospital. Windham County Master Gardeners work with People’s Harvest of Pomfret to donate produce from the garden to local soup kitchens.
Community Gardeners Reap Bountiful Harvests While Average American Family Tosses 25% of Food Purchases Each Year!
A couple of weeks ago, the Connecticut Community Gardening Association partnering with the community garden at Manchester Community College held a Summer Celebration of the gardens, the dedicated gardeners, their bounty, composting efforts and the desire to learn more about growing one’s own food. I just learned from an on-line article that only 5 % of Americans garden! That is really depressing to me (not only as a soils and horticulture educator) but because gardening affords me such a pleasant escape from my every day, real-world trials and tribulations. I look at it as free therapy – often with culinary benefits!
A moderate sized group of local, interested folks showed up for a tour of the gardens and an informal but insightful presentation by CT Department of Energy and Environmental Protection’s (CT DEEP) Sherill Baldwin. Some of the statistics that Ms. Baldwin presented us with were truly amazing. Food waste is apparently the largest component of municipal solid waste that goes to landfills and incinerators. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that food wastes made up 21.3 % of the total national municipal solid wastes generated in 2011. Amazingly that amounts to 36.31 million tons of wasted food each year! This represents major inefficiencies in our food system!
Not only are our valuable natural resources (soil, water, nutrients, etc.) wasted when edible food products are tossed into the trash but there is a monetary loss (estimated $1,365 – $2,275) when food is discarded and not eaten and if food ends up in a landfill, methane gas is produced as the food decays underground and it is a greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming. Even if the food waste is burned for energy, it still could often be put to better use, according to Ms. Baldwin.
A recent UConn study found that 12.7% of Connecticut residents from 2008 to 2010 were living in a household which was deemed ‘food insecure’. The USDA’s definition of food insecurity is ‘access by all members at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life”.
So Connecticut gardeners, what can you do if you have extra produce to share? Actually there are a lot of options. Contact one of the following organizations:
Many of us gardeners produce more that we can freeze/can/dry/giveaway before our harvest starts to lose its freshness and nutritional qualities. For those not able to grow food crops, think about planning meals to avoid waste and purchasing nutritious vegetables, fruits and meats produced locally.
Do consider finding a community garden in your community if gardening space is limited at your residence. The CT Community Gardening Association can help find suitable space in some areas of the state.
Growing one’s own food can provide a great deal of satisfaction and sustenance. While it can be challenging at times, acquiring knowledge at events like this one or contacting the horticulturists at the UConn Home & Garden Education Center (860) 486-6271 or Master Gardener volunteers at your local UConn Extension Center will help you grow healthy and productive crops.
As far as what else to do with food waste, many gardeners add kitchen wastes to their compost piles. Composting is a time-honored method of disposing of a large amount of kitchen and yard wastes (no fats, grease or carnivorous animal droppings) and recycling these items into a wonderful soil amendment. Just so happens that UConn offers an annual Master Composter Program and this year it will be held in Stamford at the Bartlett Arboretum in October.
And on a totally different topic, I went to Magic Wings Butterfly Conservatory in Deerfield with a friend while on vacation and purchased a Monarch butterfly chrysalis thinking I could blog about it hatching. Well one vacation day another event was planned and I noticed the chrysalis becoming transparent. I left it attached to the porch railing in case the butterfly emerged before I got home and low and behold it did! So much for that idea, but some compensation. The next day was my sister’s birthday (she lives a short distance from me) and she told me she was so excited to see a Monarch butterfly in her garden – the first one she saw all year. Maybe it was the one that emerged from my chrysalis. But even if not, I will wish it an uneventful journey to its Mexican wintering grounds.
By Jiff Martin – Extension Educator Sustainable Food Systems
All this talk about checking out the latest seed catalogues, de-wintering the garden and predicting the date of the last frost can be frustrating for the land-poor gardener wanna-be. If you are an apartment dweller, a condo resident or simply garden-plot deprived, you may not be satisfied with a few pots in the windowsill or on the deck. You may think you are limited to mooning over beautiful pictures in gardening magazines, but, there is an alternative. Seek out your nearest community garden!
Community Gardens Thrive In Connecticut!
It may seem that the popularity of community gardens has waxed and waned over the years, but, in fact, they have been thriving in some cities and towns for 30 or 40 years.
Some long term members of the Capitol Region Community Gardens in Albany New York, have worked the same plots for 30 years
The New Haven Land Trust community gardening program is celebrating 10 years of gardens this year
In Seattle, Washington, over 1900 plots serve more than 4,600 urban gardeners on 12 acres of land
The Knox Parks Foundation in Hartford maintains 15 community garden sites throughout the city
The Middlesex County Extension center has a model community garden for public education.
Long before many of these programs got started, the seeds of community food security were planted in local plots in cities like Detroit. During an economic downturn in 1890, the mayor of Detroit asked local landowners with vacant lots to make these lots available for jobless city residents to plant what were called, “potato patches”. Though potatoes were the primary crop, these plots produced 14,000 bushels of vegetables their first year.
Of course, our parents and grandparents were most familiar with “Victory Gardens” promoted by the US government as a way to increase food security during wartime. By 1944, these gardens produced 44% of the fresh vegetables in the United States. Then along came the 1970’s when many of the current programs were started, lead by urban and environmental activists as a movement to revitalize communities and to help build skills that could potentially move people out of poverty. It was soon discovered that the side effects of gardening programs are many. They helped individuals to feel a part of a community; provided recreational opportunities as well as exercise that is free and does not involve expensive equipment; encouraged beautification of public spaces; provided a place for educational opportunities related to food and the environment; provided cooling shade—an oasis on a hot summer day; and, of course, they cultivated friendships, flowers, and healthy food.
OK, so the benefits of community gardening are many—what else do you need to know before signing up? Well, first of all, you need to know that each community garden is likely to have its own personality. Some are large, some are small. The land may belong to the city (particularly park or school based projects), or sometimes a church or private landowner will donate the space. Some community gardens sprouted directly from a need perceived by a land trust or other community organization. Most successful programs have non-profit organizations as partners. They can provide ongoing organizational support and help with seeking funding for tools, fencing, and other needs.
Some gardens are youth oriented and some may have a cultural flavor-providing fruits and vegetables that recent immigrants can’t find in the local supermarket. Some gardens are planted knowing that at least of portion of the harvest will go to support the needs of local food pantries or soup kitchens-you may be asked to “Plant a Row for the Hungry.” Or, your garden may be prolific enough to regularly bring the extras to a local farmer’s market.
So, visit your local community garden. Check out the space and resources. See what a commitment to this will “cost” you. How much time will you need to devote to the project? Do you need to provide your own tools? How do you sign up? How big is your plot? Is the garden managed organically? Is the soil tested for lead or other contaminants? What is the future of the site—is it subject to the whims of the landowner or city politicians—or will you still be gardening there in five years or so?
If you find that there are no gardening sites available to you, think about organizing one. Chances are there are others in your town or neighborhood who would be interested. There are two organizations that have information and resources to guide you through the process. The American Community Gardening Association at www.communitygarden.org is one gateway to more information about community gardening. Their annual conference will be held this year in Boston, providing the Northeast region easy access to lots of information about starting, growing and promoting gardens in their communities.
In Connecticut, we have a long tradition of successful community gardening. Bridgeport, New Haven, Hartford, Milford, New London, Norwich, the list goes on. There is likely to be a community garden program near you. In the last few years, community gardeners in Connecticut have come together to form the Connecticut Community Gardening Association. The group has defined its mission as, “To support community gardening in Connecticut by disseminating information, building communities and claiming land for environmentally friendly use.” In support of this mission, the CCGA holds an annual community gardening conference, fosters the development of land trusts, community gardens and similar organizations, and seeks out resources for education and research in areas of interest to community gardeners. If you are interested in joining or forming a garden or if you just want to connect with a community of like-minded souls, check out the web site for membership and contact information at: www.ctcommunitygardening.org.