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March 24, 2014

More than food grows from community gardens

This is a revival of a column I wrote a few years ago about community gardens.

I couldn’t resist digging it out of the mothballs because, like other local food and gardening efforts, it’s gaining momentum with wide interest.

When I last encouraged folks to look into community gardens there were just a handful in the North Country. Last summer, when Adirondack Harvest published its annual local food guide, we listed 21 community and school gardens, just in Essex County.

My introduction to community gardens took place 25 years ago when my husband and I, devout gardeners and homesteaders, abruptly moved from the rural green of Vermont to Minneapolis and St. Paul (yes, we started out in one city and a year later moved to the other one).

While we adored the Twin Cities, there were no backyard gardens for us. And so there entered a new concept in my life: community gardens. 

We discovered that plots of land had been cordoned off in, among other places, parks and vacant lots. Each area was divided into many 20-by-20-feet plots with water access. For a small fee we were able to secure a space, tilled for us at the beginning of the season.

Our first year was a challenge — the garden had been created in the site of an old parking lot. We spent considerable effort removing hidden chunks of asphalt from the soil and worrying about potential toxins.

In later years we found space in other community gardens, sometimes renting more than one plot to support our craving to work the land.

When we moved to the North Country I promptly forgot about community gardens, dismissing them as purely urban creations.

We had, for us, a crazy abundance of open, fertile land, begging to sprout whatever seeds we sowed. Wasn’t this everyone’s experience with gardening in this region? 

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