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Rebirth of a Community Garden – John Zon Community Garden

Pleasant Street Community gardener

Eveline Macdougall with some of the lively Pleasant Street Community Gardeners

In 1997 Eveline Macdougall visited the Great Falls Community Garden in Turners Falls. She looked at that garden, and thought of all the gardens her family had grown. She thought about her own frustrations trying to ‘squeeze plants into tiny outdoor spaces while longing for a real garden.’ Then inspired by the Great Falls garden she turned to her friend Suzette Snow-Cobb who helped start the Great Falls garden for advice.

Macdougall then began creating a community garden by talking to people, and finding the right people to talk to. There were talks and more talks with the DPW about a site for the garden. None were found.

Then used as an administrative building the Davis Street School lot had space and Macdougall noticed. She talked to the school department. Macdougall told me she was “getting an interesting political lesson on how to approach people.” Months passed of talks with the school board and the selectmen.

Finally she got permission, but not before she kneeled down before them at a meeting. ‘You are wearing me down. Look at me. Look at my hands in prayer. I’m a really good community organizer.” With laughter, permission was granted.

The selectmen approved the garden but she had to check in with all the abutters which she did. Approvals were finally given and after two years the Pleasant Street Community Garden was about to be born.

Pleasant Street Community Garden is born

In the spring of 1999 Rick Pascale brought his Gravely machine (they don’t make these anymore) to Pleasant Street and spent eight long hours breaking ground. Thirteen plots were marked off and immediately found gardeners to use them. When Dorothea Sotiros came along to help Macdougall as the garden grew, thirty-plots were in use. There was always a waiting list.

There had been struggles and frustrations to get the garden and to maintain the garden, but Macdougall told me she wouldn’t trade a minute of her time in those first 15 years for anything. The gardeners who gathered there were refugees, immigrants, youngsters, elders, apartment dwellers like herself, and even prisoners from the jail. All were grateful and happy to have dirt for planting. Macdougall’s stories of trials and joy and thanks would take more than this column to tell.

Then, as we know, the brick building came down, the gardens were removed and there was gnashing of teeth. Macdougall reminded the gardeners and everyone else that the town had been very generous in giving the land, for free, for all those years. Now the garden is coming back.

John Zon Community Center – Community Garden is Reborn

Rabbi Andrea

Rabbi Andrea Cohen-Kiener on the site of the new Community Garden

The John Zon Community Center is sitting on that Pleasant Street lot. So far, there are lawns, shrubberies, and a large pollinator garden in front of the building. Behind the building is a rain garden, and the beginnings of a new Community Garden. Dorothea Sotiros is once again one of the organizers, along with Rabbi Andrea Cohen-Kiener and others who have met for the past few months as a Working Group. On April 22, Earth Day, there will be a celebration from 5 to 7 pm, to mark the beginnings of a new Community Garden. There will be music and snacks and conversation about What Next. Attendees will be invited to participate in one way or another.

I met with Rabbi Andrea and we both looked at the 180 by 35 foot planting bed full of promise. It is not ready to be planted. Rabbi Andrea explained that the soil needs to be prepared this year before it is fertile and healthy. A healthy soil will prepare the garden for successful healthy crops next year. The Working Group has been grateful to NOFA (Northeast Organic Farming Organization) which has given them best practices advice about improving the soil.

The Working Group is happy about the educational impact of the location of the garden. Those who come to the Community Center, and even those who walk by will have an opportunity to see the skills needed and used as the garden takes form. There will be a best practices workshop in composting for those who are interested. There will demonstrations of the different ways to garden. There is talk about vertical gardening. The Working Group is welcoming the thoughts, dreams and desires of those who will be interested in getting a plot in the garden.

The soil will be worked this year with tools that had been used in the original Pleasant Street Garden, then patiently and hopefully stored while waiting for this renewal. Those tools will now be stored in a new shed due in part to the generosity of the New England Grass Roots Environmental Fund, and the Greenfield Common Good, both of which have given grants to the Community Garden. The town has absorbed the installation of the shed.

Join the Community Garden party on Earth Day, April 22, 2019 from 5 to 7pm at the John Zon Community Center.

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An extra note. Eveline Macdougall has written a book about the Amandala Chorus which she founded. It is titled Fiery Hope and will soon be for sale. I am looking forward to her book, still to be written, about her adventures in the Pleasant Street Community Garden.

Between the Rows  April 13 2019