Summer Garden Programs Kick-Off!

By Beka Bruner, Garden Education Intern

After a few days of rain and many wishes for sunny skies, the VCGN Garden Education team finally made our way outside and into the dirt. We grabbed our hoes, shovels, and rakes and headed into gardens – big and small – all over Chittenden County. I began the week with expectations of learning about garden organization alone, but I’ve found that working within multiple different community gardens has taught me so much more.

New pathways line a row of tomatoes.

A resident takes a look at the herbs with Nell.

On Wednesday, Garden Education Manager Carolina Lukac, Garden Education Intern Nell Carpenter, and I started our adventures on the patio of the Ethan Allen Residence in Burlington’s New North End. Although many of the residents weren’t able to get into the garden with us, we enjoyed chatting with the seniors about their past gardening experiences and listening to their opinions about the garden. My many conversations with the residents taught me Lesson One: gardening is a beautiful activity for people of all ages. A few residents weren’t so sure about what we were planting, but when we offered them an herb to smell or a flower to hold, their faces lit up with joy – gardening is a universal language.

Canal Street residents pose for a picture along with Beka, Nell, and Garden Expert Charlie Nardozzi.

Carolina helps assemble the new raised bed.

The same day, we made our way to the Canal Street Veterans Housing site in Winooski. Six veterans met us on the front steps of the building, ready to build a new garden bed. They didn’t have a large space to work with, but nonetheless, we were still able to make a beautiful new bed with the help of everyone who was willing. This brought me to Lesson Two: no plot is too small. This lesson not only provides hope for urban gardening, but it also inspires gardens at homes with little additional property.

A UVM student weeds the raspberry patch.

The UVM professor removes the old fence.

At the end of the day, Carolina and I directed a group of University of Vermont students for their community service learning project at the Teaching Garden at Ethan Allen Homestead. We dug out fences, revamped an old compost pile, and weeded and edged the raspberry beds. In the beginning, I doubted that the students would finish all the tasks in two short hours, but they proved me wrong. Lesson Three:  a lot can change when we work together. Put our minds, hearts, and hands together, and we’ll watch as many doubts are blown out of the water.

Nell helps a young gardener water the plants.

A Family Room gardener picks out vegetable seedlings.

On Thursday, we rallied for another great day of gardening. We started at the Family Room Garden, where families of a diverse range of backgrounds come together to plant their own gardens, share in a potluck style lunch, and build community. These observations brought me to Lesson Four: community gardens can eliminate cultural barriers and strengthen community bonds. Despite some language barriers, the adults engaged in dialogue and the kids strengthened friendships – opportunities that may not have presented themselves in other settings.

The improved Harbor Place Garden!

We ended our week in the garden at Harbor Place in Shelburne, Champlain Housing Trust’s temporary, emergency  motel. We arrived to find that an animal or pests had ravaged the broccoli and cabbage plants. After a few hours, we had restored the garden to its full potential. Lesson Five: gardening is hard work, but worth it. We persevered the heat and fought against weeds, but we left the garden feeling very accomplished and proud of the work we had done. Most importantly, it will be a great asset to the Harbor Place residents.

Of course, I also learned an incredible amount about the science of gardening, from properly planting tomatoes to identifying a brassica. Overall, this week was truly an amazing start to an action-packed summer. Stay tuned for more VCGN activities and updates on the lessons I learn from community gardens!