The Cape's Community Gardens
From the bridge to Provincetown, community gardens across Cape Cod are making life a little greener for a growing number of residents. The increasing appeal of the concept is clearly expressed in the town-by-town growth of the gardens as more and more people choose to participate in the production of their own food and food for their communities. This activity is bringing people together by reinforcing the social ties that can be eroded by our busy, modern, ultra-convenient lives. It provides exercise with a purpose in a sedentary age. Working in a garden provides the instant gratification of a job well done along with the long-term gratification of food production. It is an opportunity for people to shorten the route from farm to table, control their own food supply and teach the young where food really comes from: the ground, not plastic supermarket packages. It increases community food independence and can lead to blossoming friendships. It beautifies the landscape, provides artistic opportunities for design and helps preserve open space. Gardens provide the public with beautiful, food producing parks, a place to picnic among the honeybees and the butterflies.
While each garden is unique, the Cape’s community gardens share many common organizational attributes. The land designated is generally, but not always, town owned and set aside for the purpose of gardening. The area is divided into individual plots that can be rented by town residents for a nominal fee. Some sort of management is set up; perhaps a committee of gardeners. Each renter is responsible for his or her own space, where flowers and vegetables can be grown. The town generally supplies water, soil and tools onsite. Plants, seeds and knowledge can be shared. Surplus food is generally given back to the community food bank to spread the goodness. Volunteer work is crucial, and a common factor of all gardens is the incredible response of local residents, often including AmeriCorps of Cape Cod, based in Barnstable and dedicated to preserving the Cape’s fragile ecosystem with the help of its domestic Peace Corps-like volunteers. Read on for a look at how community gardens have taken root and are growing in towns across the Cape.
Established in 2002, the Falmouth Community Garden is owned and run through the Falmouth Service Center and the Falmouth Housing Corporation on Gifford Street. It contains eighty-two 8×10-foot plots. Participants are asked to donate half of their harvest to the Falmouth Service Center for distribution to others in need. Some gardeners actually choose to donate their entire crop. The Falmouth Service Center provides composted soil, horse manure, woodchips, organic fertilizers, tools and water onsite. Some plants are donated by local nurseries, and the DPW donates soil. Each gardener pays a $10 fee for the plot and supplies. Ilona Geise, who is involved in the garden’s management, notes that after nine years the garden keeps growing, to the point that it has run out of land. She describes the excitement of putting in the butterfly garden to help with pollination eight years ago with the help of the AmeriCorps intern who designed it. Brenda Swain, Director of the Falmouth Service Center Food Pantry, is struck by the garden’s social impact. Participation is big at the monthly work day when everybody helps out at the annual Earth Day celebration. Gardeners’ experience levels vary from beginner to master gardener, so there is a lot of helping out going on. Brenda notes the great educational opportunities for all ages and states that it is “so much more than just gardening, it’s about neighbors helping neighbors.”
Judy Desrochers, the president of Meetinghouse Farm Inc., is continually astounded by the increasing public demand for community gardens. In 2007 the town accepted a proposal to create a community garden at the Route 149 location. The heavily wooded land was brought back to farm condition with the help of AmeriCorps. Judy states that the mission of Meetinghouse Farm is to “promote agricultural and horticultural values and practices in the community”. She and a board of eight people manage the garden and liaise with the town, which owns the land and helps establish goals for the program. The garden has grown from its initial eight plots to thirty 15×15 plots available to rent for $25. The site includes twelve greenhouse benches for seeding, eight cut flower gardens and, new last year, a farm stand to sell veggies and cut flowers in return for donations. The farm is truly part of the community as it is used for school groups, the land trust and other gardening groups. It has huge educational potential. The demand is so high that Judy envisions community gardens in every village, perhaps started by the town and then allowed to continue under resident care. Barnstable has a second community garden in Marstons Mills off New Town Road, founded by a committee of gardeners on five acres of conservation land. Donna Lawson, who still acts as the garden’s liaison to the town and lives in the neighborhood now adorned by the garden, was there every step of the way. The committee received a grant from the Cape Cod Conservation District, allowing them to update the water system and to add ten plots and a wildflower garden. Donna states this was in response to huge public demand and helped bring the count of plots (most measuring 20×40 some smaller) up to today’s sixty-eight from the original fifty. This year they added eight additional plots in a further attempt to reconcile their waiting list and again expanded their irrigation. Donna states, “You could put a community garden on every corner of every town and it still wouldn’t be enough.”
Taylor-Bray Farm in Yarmouth Port has a community garden with a twist: it is located on a beautiful historic working farm with animals and has a lovely boardwalk to the marsh. In 2000, the land now hosting the garden was sitting dormant. Taylor-Bray Farm’s Lynn McIntyre described how they thought it would be a great place for community gardening and drew up a plan, received approval from the Yarmouth Historic Preservation Commission and finally established the plots. Today there are twenty plots, sized 20×20, one of which is designed to accommodate physically-challenged gardeners. Fees are $25 a year and there is a waiting list through the Town of Yarmouth. Taylor-Bray Farm provides its own manure on a first-come-first-served basis, water access and tilling. Gardeners keep all of their produce. Lynn says that she sees people of all ages enjoying the garden and farm in general. In addition to Taylor-Bray Farm, Yarmouth has another, two-year-old Community Garden at the Senior Center off Forest Road. This garden has nineteen plots made of 4×8 raised beds. Three of the beds are sized 2×8 and built to accommodate wheelchairs and walkers. The garden is administered by the town, and gardeners pay a $20 fee. They are supplied with water and compost. In the spirit of strengthening community self-sufficiency, the Yarmouth food bank has reserved a few plots.
Moving down Cape, the Wellfleet Community Garden is unique in its whimsy. Founder Celeste Makely delights in the decorative variety found in the garden. There are scarecrows, whirly gigs and driftwood. Some gardens are decorated in a nautical theme and some are named. The garden is located on Old King’s Highway at the Council on Aging. Celeste and her team successfully established the garden last year, obtaining town approval and navigating the lengthy permitting process.
This year they have turned the management over to a group of gardeners. John Morrissey, the current board member elected chairman, states that it is now a year-round garden, producing winter greens for springtime harvest. There are currently thirty-two members and most plots are 20×20 in size, although some gardeners prefer smaller half plots. One of the great things about the garden is the community support it has elicited. Local volunteers have pitched in with great results. Dennis Murphy of Murphy Nickerson took down the scrubby trees that previously populated the site, disposed of them and amended the soil. Other residents, including plumbers and electricians, contributed as well. The result is a flourishing community project that is already oversubscribed. According to John Morrissey, “The waiting list is full; we have more demand than we can keep up with.”
The economic downturn has shown its silver lining in Provincetown. Brain Carlson of Provincetown’s Health and Environmental Affairs office describes how the town was looking for a positive community project to bring people together while producing flowers, fruit and fun. The result is the B-Street Garden, opened May 1, 2000. The garden, which provides a great use for conservation space, sits on 2.3 acres of wetlands and marsh. The wetlands were filled in around 1940 and used previously as a storage place for lobster traps. In its first year, B Street saw over seventy applicants for its initial thirty plots. Brian Carlson states, “Demand was huge.” There are currently fifty-five plots with more in the planning. The plots, which consist of 8×10 beds with cedar frames, are allocated via a drawing, with old applicants receiving priority over new. The garden is run by a garden advisory group made up from the community, while the conservation commission acts as the actual property manager. The garden owes a lot of its success to community participation. AmeriCorps of Cape Cod was instrumental in the garden’s building and helped obtain grants; the Land Bank in Provincetown also contributed. Brian Carlson describes the site as artistic and creative, a great community meeting place with a plot designated for the town’s schools. He points out the beekeepers with two active hives, the shed donated by neighbors, the fruit trees planted for shade and the picnic tables. There are also two wells onsite and Provincetown is really looking to the future with its plans to work towards a solar powered irrigation system this summer.
Other towns are discovering their green thumbs as well. Mashpee has twenty-five 8×12 plots on Route 30 in a garden set up through the Community Preservation Committee in the summer of 2009. Sandwich’s Community Green Community Garden is owned by the Housing Assistance Corporation, with thirty gardeners to date. Its goal is to combine agriculture with the lives of its residents. The Brewster Conservation Trust established their garden in 2004. It has sixty-five 20×20 plots and a long waiting list.
The popular year-old Community Children’s Garden is next to the Truro Library; it is the result of a partnership between Sustainable Cape, Truro Recreation and the Truro Library and consists of one big 16×16 garden. This garden is all about kids as it hosts an after-school program, a summer program and a 4-H program. The kids eat what they pick, using some of the produce to create snacks for the after-school program. Chatham is opening its first community garden this year with twenty-six 20×20 plots on Route 28 next to the Chatham Agway. Food pantry volunteers are planning to grow and donate 25% of the garden’s produce to the town.
But to get a good sense of what these gardens mean to the Cape’s communities, who better to ask than the gardeners themselves? Ellen Duarte voices it well—she has gardened at the Marstons Mills community garden off New Town Road for at least eight years. She appreciates the peace and satisfaction she finds there, stating that, “Gardening is, like anything, about success and failure. This is a great place to learn from veteran gardeners and a great way to augment your groceries and your friend’s groceries. It is a sharing experience.” Community Gardens are definitely the modern victory garden. As fuel prices rise it will make increasing sense for communities to rely on their own food supplies. The gardens push the re-establishment of local food routes a little bit deeper as self-sufficiency grows. In the process, community itself is being rediscovered.