Community garden almost ready to bloom on Bible Street

Gardeners throughout Greenwich will soon have the chance to take part in a townwide project with the official launch of a community garden on Bible Street.

This comes after five successful years of a community garden at the Armstrong Court housing project in town and it will be the second project for the local nonprofit Greenwich Community Gardens (GCG). After receiving unanimous approval by the Board of Selectman in August 2013 and the Representative Town Meeting (RTM) a few months later, the GCG is firmly in the midst of its capital campaign, which launched last December.

According to GCG Executive Director Patty Sechi, roughly $59,000 has been raised, with the ultimate goal of about $70,000. Fund-raising efforts have included appeals for private donations, grant applications and outreach to local businesses for support.

The GCG has an ambitious timeline, and hopes to launch the groundbreaking this month and officially open the garden for the season in late April or early May. The group is currently in the process of talking to contractors, receiving bids for the project, and understanding the scope and demands of the project.

The GCG team is looking to build upon the success of the Armstrong Court Garden. The second garden, located at 129 Bible Street, will add another 88 garden plots to the 125 currently at Armstrong Court. The Armstrong Court Garden, which was created in April 2009, boasts more than 15,000 square feet of land, a pergola and picnic benches, butterfly and herb gardens, fully stocked garden sheds, and even a newly designed pizza oven.

The garden, in conjunction with Armstrong Court’s on-site Head Start nursery program, also has several gardening plots exclusively dedicated to its children’s gardening initiative. In addition to the harvest of personal plots, a portion of the garden’s bounty is donated to local food pantry Neighbor-to-Neighbor. To date, more than 800 pounds of fresh produce has been delivered, an equivalent of providing nutritious food to more than 1,000 Greenwich residents.

The organization hopes that the Bible Street community garden will expand the organization’s capacity to address health and hunger issues at both the individual and family level and also through increased donations to the food pantry.

At Armstrong Court, while there are gardens specifically designated for Neighbor-to-Neighbor, the donations are not an organized program but instead a result of the generosity of individual growers and churches who have gotten involved. Ms. Sechi said the practice is an activity the GCG certainly encourages and hopes to create a program around in the near future.

“We want to create it more like a program so that we have a better sense of how the food is getting there and how much,” said Ms. Sechi.

Unlike the Armstrong Court Garden, the Bible Street Garden consists of a slightly distinct public/private partnership. While the Armstrong Court garden is a partnership between the GCG and the Greenwich Housing Authority, the Bible Street garden is a town property lease, and includes associated town requirements.

This distinction isn’t the only difference between the two gardens. Unlike the Armstrong Court garden, whose site had once been a garden, the Bible Street site does not have any basic garden design. It will require extensive preparatory steps such as excavation, fencing, putting in water lines, and building the garden beds. Other steps include resurfacing the road and making the garden universally accessible.

“We’re also developing this garden in such a way that a part of it will be accessible for people who would’ve otherwise been unable to be a part of it,” said Ms. Sechi. “We’re building specifically so that wheelchairs and walkers, whatever you need, can enter and garden at tabletop height.”

Ms. Sechi stressed both gardens’ unique aspects, but said that the process of building the first garden was helpful in learning fundamentals, such as what it really means to run a community garden, from gardening basics and beyond.

“We’re really trying to grow community. We’re learning that process, and that is really important information to have. We’re also kind of learning general things: how do you organize things, what gardeners need, how do you sustain a garden,” Ms. Sechi said.

There are also seasonal adult garden classes available to teach the basics of gardening and how to make the most of the harvest at Armstrong Court. GCG plans on continuing this program at the Bible Street garden, and also hopes to plan and introduce a kids program as well.

Residents interested in securing a plot in the new garden will have to wait until the sign-up period, which is slated for the early spring. The list will be first-come, first-served, but the requirements are simple. All potential gardeners are required to attend an annual meeting, sign a waiver, and pay for their plot ($40). With 88 4-foot by 8-foot garden plots available, Ms. Sechi admits that participation will be limited. She estimates having roughly 40 gardeners active at the new garden, since many gardeners will want to reserve more than one plot.

“We will publicize the sign-up period for the whole town. If we wind up with a really huge waiting list, that kind of indicates to us that it’s time to think about the next garden,” said Ms. Sechi.

Ms. Sechi and her team at the GCG hope to continue to build additional community gardens throughout town. Ms. Sechi dreams of one day having a community garden in each part of Greenwich.

“It’s important for people to be able to easily get to their gardens,” Ms. Sechi said. “People are more successful and happier with gardens when it’s not so hard to do, when you can get there pretty easily. It just becomes part of the fabric of your community.”

Ms. Sechi said the benefits of community gardens for the community are multifold, even for those who are not gardeners, since the addition of well-managed green spaces contribute to the community at large. The GCG team will be making efforts to make the new community garden open to non-gardening visitors.

“We feel like there are a lot of benefits, even if you’re not an actual gardener. People will be welcome to come in, see the gardens, sit on a bench, and enjoy themselves,” Ms. Sechi said.

For the participating gardeners, Ms. Sechi strongly feels that there are a gamut of positive results. Gardening encourages wellness by fostering healthy eating and getting people to eat locally by thinking about where food comes from.

“There’s garden education — it’s sort of like a constant atmosphere of learning. It’s great exercise, we’ve really seen a lot of people get healthier. I think it’s also just sort of a frame of mind, eating locally, appreciating that you can participate in your own health,” said Ms. Sechi.

The creation of these two community gardens is the work of a small group of dedicated individuals. The GCG board has seven members and meets every month. There is also a larger group with about 11 people, the Bible Street garden building team, which is actively working on all planning and organization for the new garden. Ms. Sechi makes it clear that she has not traveled alone, and says that none of this would have been possible without the contributions of others.

“I have been very fortunate to have had dedicated people who care very much about their fellow citizens at my side. The teams of people we have built over the past five years are filled with extraordinary and generous folks,” said Ms. Sechi.

The GCG hopes to build up its roster of volunteers, who will be indispensable in the physical creation of the new garden. Others who are looking to support the organization may sign up for a plot and donate to the organization at its website, Greenwichcommunitygardens.org.

Since the creation of the Armstrong Court Garden in 2009, and the formal launch of GCG in 2011, there has been much progress. Perhaps this is the beginning of a legacy of community gardens in every corner of town.

“It’s [Armstrong Court] pretty much exceeded all of my possible dreams. Almost everything I thought in my mind to be a really wonderful thing to have in the garden has actually come to fruition. … I think we’ll just sustain and grow,” said Ms. Sechi.

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