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Community Garden

February 28, 2007
Area residents in two towns are hoping new efforts to construct community gardens will bear fruit as well as vegetables to harvest.

Plans are afoot in Southbridge and Webster to construct community gardens to provide food to residents free or for a small fee. Everything from providing cheaper food to fostering a more tight-knit community are the reasons behind the ideas, according to officials involved in the plans.

If all goes well, the Orthodox Christian Church in Southbridge could be the site of one of these new gardens, according to its pastor, Father Peter-Michael Preble.

He is planning to build a garden on the land behind the church on Romanian Avenue. While the plans are preliminary, Rev. Preble hopes to have the site running by the summer. It would be open to the public, not just parishioners, he said.

Preble said the economic downturn in part spurred his idea, but he had already been considering it for a while.

"We have got the land here, it just seems right," he said.

Preble is not alone in the opinion. Bartlett Junior/Senior High School science teacher Richard Bryson has already started work on a garden on the school's campus. As part of a class project, Bryson and his students are clearing the area and hope to have their site operating soon, in time for growing season. Bryson said it will be free and open to school students the first year, due to time constraints he has for the project. It could possibly open to the public in the future, he said.

Bryson, rather than citing economic reasons for his plans, said he wants to use the garden to form tighter bonds within the town.

"It helps bring the community together. People can meet people," he said.

Several other details have yet to be worked out at both sites. Depending on how big his garden becomes, Bryson wants to open it to the general public and impose a small fee for the second year, he said. He plans to send out flyers to students' families to gauge interest in the project.

At the church's site, Preble said he needs to take his plans "from theory into practice."

The benefits of both sites could be bountiful. According to the American Community Garden Association, community gardens encourage people to become more self-reliant, reduces their food budget, and creates social opportunities for gardeners.

"I think it brings people together," Preble said.

The Southern Worcester County Gardening Group's food plot in Webster is already reaping the benefits of the plants they have sown.

"It seems like people are caring more about each other when we are there. I have seen that grow a lot," said the group's secretary-treasure Ginger Costen.

Since opening a year ago on Sutton Road, the garden has grown to have raspberries, onions and garlic among other plants, she said. The 150 by 50 feet site is free of charge and open to Webster, Dudley and Oxford residents.

Both Preble and Bryson are forecasting abundant harvests for their gardens. Preble is he would consider planting flowers and even opening a farmers market. He also suggested collecting rainwater in barrels to irrigate the garden. Gardening classes could even be held, he said.

"We would start off small obviously," Preble said. "I think the interest will grow each year."

Bryson said he wants to expand his garden, depending on its success, which he is confident will happen.

"I know it will be," he said.

Operating community gardens is not a new idea as it harkens back to a couple of traditions. Costen's land was formerly the site of an old poor farm, she said, and the garden just continues that tradition.

Preble said religious institutions have traditionally had gardens to feed parishioners. Churches in general, he said, needs to fulfill that role because the government should and cannot.

"We're supposed to be watching out for our brother," he said.

Anybody interested in the garden projects can contact Preble at (508) 765-5276 or Costen at (508) 943-4599.

Ryan Grannan-Doll can be reached by phone at (508)-909-4050, or by e-mail at rgrand@stonebridgepress.com

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