Community gardens: A place for growth

Posted 5/16/23

REGION — The warm days of spring have blossomed for us here in the Northeast. Bulbs rear their heads up through thawed earth and the sun shines down longer each day, ready to nourish the …

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Community gardens: A place for growth


REGION — The warm days of spring have blossomed for us here in the Northeast. Bulbs rear their heads up through thawed earth and the sun shines down longer each day, ready to nourish the seedlings spreading their leaves. 

This is a time for many to start thinking about what they want to plant in their gardens. 

Gardens have numerous benefits, whether it is the soothing ability to have one’s hands in the dirt, or the nutritional benefits of harvesting food close to its source. When you grow your own fruit and vegetables, you can control exactly what is put into them, opting to grow organically or using soil and fertilizer methods you trust.

However, gardening isn’t always accessible to everyone. To garden, one needs to have space and a multitude of supplies—soil, compost, plants, trowels and other tools, and water—not to mention a key item in our deer-filled woods: protection from animals. 

Fencing in a garden can be quite costly, and those who rent may not be able to change their backyard landscape. In an apartment building, they may not have access to yard space at all.

Some backyard soils can be contaminated with heavy metals or lingering leachate from old landfill sites.

Fresh produce is even more significant in Sullivan County, notorious for ranking as the second-to-last healthiest county in the state, usually 61 out of 62—though this year the county has improved its ranking to 60.

This is where community gardens—which provide a localized, communal garden system—come in. A community garden allows costs to be shared; people can adopt a plot for the growing season in a fenced-in area, often with access to shared tools. 

Costs for plots, depending on the garden, can range from $20 to $100, or be free in exchange for labor.

In Narrowsburg, NY, on Demauro Lane behind the Tusten-Cochecton Branch Public Library, is the Tusten Heritage Community Garden (THCG). Its mission is to be “a public green space centered on education and events that provide unique botanical resources for the community of the Upper Delaware Valley.” 

The garden offers four-foot-by-eight-foot raised beds in a deer-fenced area measuring 30 feet by 100 feet. There is access to tools, soil supplements and free events and workshops throughout the year. 

The suggested donation for one bed is $100, and for two beds it is $150. There is also a workshare option available in lieu of a donation; beds are available in exchange for 10 hours of volunteering to maintain the fence, water systems and communal herb and flower garden beds. 

The garden is also a registered Pollinator Pathway garden and a Monarch Watch Waystation, marking it as a pesticide-free space that supports pollinating insects, bees, and bird habitats. This is thanks in large part to Ed Weseley, a local environmentalist who passed away a couple of years back and advised on which pollinator-friendly plants to incorporate into the garden.

In addition to providing books to check out, the Tusten-Cochecton library also has an innovative seed library. People can check out seeds to plant, or drop off seeds for donation. “You can take or leave as much as you want—as long as it’s labeled,” representatives of the library said.

In Honesdale, PA, Jenna Mauder, the agriculture and food-program manager of the Cooperage Project, said of community gardens, “That is definitely a void we are looking to fill.” 

A community garden once existed at Ellen Memorial Regional Health Care Center in Honesdale, but has since disbanded. 

A new location may be shaping up on Wayne Memorial Hospital-owned land. The Cooperage Project and the Wayne Tomorrow! Ag Task Force are working on an Agriculture Innovation Center, which would aim to support community health, improve the sustainability of the local food system and offer a commercial and teaching kitchen. 

“[Finding a location with both] water access and open space has been a challenge,” said Mauder about revitalizing a community garden program.

A similar hiccup occurred with the community gardens in Eldred, which were dismantled last year due to a water-testing issue. To have the garden in its location, the water source for watering plants would need to be tested monthly and pass inspection for the water to be consumed by humans, though it is not intended to be used as a drinking-water space. The cost of monthly testing was prohibitive for the garden. As a result, it is no longer in use, though the fencing and structure remain standing.

In Port Jervis, NY, a community garden space exists on North Street, with raised beds efficiently constructed from cinder blocks. Plots cost $20 each, and tools are available. The season runs through October. 

There is also a community garden space with 20 garden beds in Milford, PA, next to the municipal building, though the director was not reachable for comment or details by press time.

Not only is food grown in community gardens beneficial for consumption, but it is also good for the environment because the food is grown and harvested locally. Think about the amount of time, gasoline and equipment required to pick a strawberry in your town versus purchasing a pint of strawberries, shipped here from California, in the store.

Community gardens also can offer the benefit included in their name—community. Neighbors can meet or get to know each other in a shared space. 

In our rural area, a community garden can be more than a 30-minute drive away for some locals. With the number of towns and hamlets greater than the current number of operating community gardens, our communities are ripe with opportunity—to provide more spaces for people to gather and grow their own food, and ultimately improve the health of our community and its individuals.

community gardens, gardening


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