The Pleasant Street Community Garden provided garden plots for over 20 people until that whole site was razed a few years ago. Davis Street School, the surrounding paving and the gardens all disappeared. There was great mourning, but last year the John Zon Community Center was completed. Hedges and trees were planted, and a Meadow Garden was planted by volunteers, but there were no Community Gardens.
One could imagine that the Community Garden was just sleeping, because there was a Working Group of gardeners at work preparing the garden space. I spoke to Rabbi Andrea Cohen-Kliener who had joined the remnants of the community gardeners who were thinking about how the it would return to life. “It was an unhappy time for the community gardeners. We had to be patient,” she said.
Rabbi Andrea told me that she came to this project to do her rabbi work and find her place in the regional food system. “To reach out to the broader community and the ‘old’ community gardeners we held a community walk. We visited neighborhood gardens to see how people could garden in small spaces,” she said.
I was on that walk and we not only saw small gardens, we saw new gardeners who were finding their way with seeds and weeds and bugs.
Rabbi Andrea and the Working Group of gardeners kept things moving last year. The garden plot is approximately 180 feet long and 40 feet wide. The soil in back of the Zon Center was very poor, and not ready to be gardened. Instead, soil amendments were added.
This year the soil improvement work continued. “With advice from the UMass Extension Service and NOFA (Northern Organic Farmers Association) we planted rye, but had to cut it down before it went to seed. We also planted clover, vetch, peas, oats, and sorghum,” Rabbi Andrea said.
Now those special crops have to be incorporated into the soil to improve it. Martin Anderton replied to a notice in the Zon Center about the need for a wheelchair accessible flower bed. Building the raised bed was his first contact with the Zon Center and he did build a beautiful raised bed. When he heard about the Community Garden he spoke to Rabbi Andrea. He explained that he rented out chickens and ducks that could help with soil improvement.
This was certainly a unique project. Anderton built a moveable coop from salvaged materials. When I spoke to him the coop with its electrified fencing had been in place for a week. By the time you read this the coop will have been settled in the next section for a week. It is amazing how much scratching and eating of clover and other plants five ducks and four chickens can do. Not to mention the amount of manure the birds can produce.
“Fresh animal manure introduces beneficial microbes and bacteria directly into the soil,” Anderton said. “Manure can also be composted with other materials, of course, but having both is very good.”
Anderton explained that he does have a business named Homestead Habitats. He rents ducks and chickens to people for a variety of reasons. Some people are testing whether they really want to raise fowl. Some people don’t want to keep fowl through the winter. He also sells fowl, sometimes as chicks, and sometimes as pullets because people find it difficult to care for tiny chicks. He will also build a shelter or coop for the birds.
Dorothea Sotiros is the Treasurer of the Working Group that meets and makes decisions about what happens next. There is a shed and tools next to the garden space. Most of the items in the shed were used by the earlier community gardeners.
Sotiros said that about five people have signed up for garden plots. There is room for more. “We are also welcoming community groups to claim a plot,” she said. “You could garden in a plot with a friend, or an organization like the Recover Project might like to take advantage of this opportunity. Inmates of the County Jail used to work at the earlier garden.”
Now a workshop is being planned, possibly for mid-October. There will be a talk, but there will also be a practical element. The plan is to cover the whole community garden space with cardboard and then cover the cardboard with mulch. In the spring the garden will be ready for planting.
The cardboard-mulch system is sometimes called Lasagna Gardening. I have used it myself in my new Greenfield garden. This method will kill the weeds. In the spring gardeners will move aside the mulch and find the cardboard has disintegrated and disappeared. What is left is wonderful soil, and worms, ready for planting. It seems like magic. I can attest to the reliability of this system. And I will tell you that worms love cardboard.
Watch for an announcement about the date of this workshop. I will be sure to include it in my column.###
Between the Row September 21, 2019