Community gardens are as much about building and supporting the community as they are about gardening. By making little garden plots (some as small as 150 square feet) available to people in the neighborhood, towns and organizations have helped promote a sense of fellowship among residents, as well as encouraged people to get out of their apartments, town houses and condos and work the land – albeit a tiny part of it. Rules, requirements and goals vary, but most groups are very strict about how the gardening must be “organic” and not for profit.
Branford Community Gardens
738 Leetes Island Road
Branford, CT 06405
Established only four years ago, Branford Community Gardens is a local charitable organization that asks all members to help take care of the largest of the plots – the produce from which is donated to families in need. In addition to that 20×50-foot community plot, there are 22 smaller plots, the rent from which goes to help this non-profit, all-volunteer group in its mission to promote “locally grown, organic produce.” The plots are situated on a piece of land owned by the Board of Education, and gardeners are encouraged to help “educate” each other, volunteers and the community on their mission. Members are required to donate their time in seasonal preparation and clean-up days, and to join one of the committees or participate in one or more of the events that help fund and maintain the gardens. The fee for a 20×20-foot plot is $35 per year; and $20 for the smaller 20×10-foot plot.
Knox Parks Foundation
75 Laurel St.
Hartford, CT 06106
Hartford is home to one of the first community gardens in the nation. Established in 1972 in the central part of the city, the Knox Parks Foundation community gardens program encourages ethnic and cultural diversity and promotes good fellowship and understanding among different groups through shared interests in gardening. Plots as small as 15×20 feet to as large as 25×25 feet are available, with annual fees as low as $20 to $25 for low-income families and seniors. More than 300 families participate in the community gardens project, and members are encouraged to participate in community-building activities. There are fewer rules than with most community gardens, although plots left or appearing to have been unattended to may be “made available to another gardener.” The group takes its motto of “Strength through Gardening” very seriously.
Westport Community Gardens
13 Hyde Lane
Westport, CT 06880
“Grow, share and care for your garden” is the motto of the Westport Community Gardens, a town-sponsored group whose members note that they have been “bringing joy through gardening since 2004.” There have been community garden projects in the town since 1971, and like many such groups in Connecticut, the joy they bring is not only measured by the bushels of vegetables, herbs and flowers they harvest from the 100 plots squeezed together in a mere one-square-acre plot. Thanks to contributions from private donors and businesses (a local farm donates the compost, another company in town provides equipment and labor), in only a few years, membership has grown from 30 to over 100 gardeners and membership is now open to both resident as well as non-resident town employees. While the bounty harvested is impressive, the members of this group do more than just hoe and grow: they have a bocce ball court, host poetry slams and do plants sales and other activities to benefit both the gardens and the community. Membership comes with requirements. In the spring, for example, every member is expected to put in at least two two-hour work days to do weeding, clean-up and preparation for planting. Each month there is a scheduled community work day, and there is also a mandatory end-of-season clean-up requirement. There are rules about how each plot must be maintained – but the group also has a list of “gardeners for hire” who can assist members who need such help. Plots come in two sizes (10×20 and 10×40 feet) and the group encourages members to donate at least some of their harvest to a local charity. The cost for a plot is $25.
Groton Community Gardens
2 Fort Hill Road
Groton, CT 06340
For a mere $25 a plot, Groton residents can cultivate flowers, vegetables and herbs in the town’s community gardens. They must, however, do so “naturally” – which means no “toxic chemicals” and no “pest management.” Mulch and compost may be used but must meet certain guidelines as established by the town. Gardeners are also cautioned against planting any “invasive” species (such as strawberries) or any that will cast a shade over a neighbor’s plot. Members are encouraged to help one another and become involved in projects that benefit the community and the gardens. They are welcome to donate or keep their produce – as long as they do not sell it.
Newington Community Gardens
Town of Newington
131 Cedar St.
Newington, CT 06111
The community garden in Newington is managed by the town’s Department of Parks and Recreation. The plot fee is only $20 a year, and “returning gardeners” have priority over new gardeners seeking one of the 20×20-foot plots. As it is run by a bureaucracy, the rules are a little more formal than many such groups, but they are also quite common: maintain a weed barrier around the plot, no alcoholic beverages are allowed and the produce may not be sold for profit. No permanent structures are allowed, and everything must be restored to a pristine condition at the end of the season. Of all the rules and regulations, however, the most important is the last: “Be Neighborly.”
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Mark G. McLaughlin is a professional and prolific writer with a proven publishing record in a wide variety of fields. An historian, novelist, freelance journalist, ghost-writer, book reviewer, magazine editor, web and magazine columnist, Mark has more than 30 years of experience. His work can be found at Examiner.com.