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A growing community

Sturbridge looks at communal gardens

The Community Preservation Committee has recently been discussing the possibility of a community farm on the Heins parcel, a former farm that is now part of the Leadmine conservation area. Christopher Tanguay. (click for larger version)
July 15, 2009
STURBRIDGE — Wouldn't you love to be able to cook with freshest ingredients around, and surround yourself with aromatic flowers?

Those opportunities are all around, and in fact, are feasible with a little attention and willingness to get your hands dirty.

One such opportunity is a community garden, in which many hands from many neighborhoods work toward a common goal of raising and harvesting fresh fruit, vegetables and flowers.

At a meeting of the Planning Board on Tuesday, July 14, Sturbridge Town Planner Jean Bubon presented the idea of a community garden to the board.

Bubon attended the Massachusetts Association of Planning Directors training in June, during which she took part in a community gardens seminar.

The American Community Garden Association broadly defines a community garden that "can be urban, suburban, or rural. It can grow flowers, vegetables or community. It can be one community plot, or can be many individual plots. It can be at a school, hospital, or in a neighborhood. It can also be a series of plots dedicated to "urban agriculture" where the produce is grown for a market."

The concept of a community garden was not entirely new to the board though. Member Penny Dumas who also serves as the chairman of the Community Preservation Committee, said the topic has come up several times with that committee at recent meetings.

"It's always healthy and good to buy local and grow local," Dumas said. "[A garden] would be one way for residents in Sturbridge to have that option and work the gardens on their own and see their hard work benefit them."

One location already on the radar as a possibility for such a garden is the Heins property off Leadmine Road.

Previously an operating farm, the expansive parcel was acquired by the town with Community Preservation Funds, and is now part of the Leadmine conservation area.

Dumas said the land "is still hayed to keep it a rolling farm area."

"To have a community piece of property that has sunshine and good soil, and has the option of growing fruits and vegetables; it seems like a way to engage the community," Dumas said.

Bubon explained that for people living in 55 and over communities, and condominiums, a community garden may be an opportunity to get outside and participate in agricultural pastimes they may not otherwise be exposed to.

"Maybe they just don't have the yard to support it or the soil type to support it," Bubon said. "For people in those communities, it certainly provides the opportunity for them to have a garden."

Another benefit of a garden that everyone shares in, is what Bubon called "intergenerational communication," meaning elderly volunteers working right along side youth groups, and everyone in between.

"There's always the opportunity to learn from each other," Bubon said. "It kind of fosters that sense of community when you're all working together in the community garden."

Bubon indicated that a program such as a community garden can be spearheaded by any of a number of town entities, including the Planning Board, Community Preservation Committee and Conservation Commission.

Bubon also explained that grant funds are available for communities putting a garden together, referring to Somerville, which established their multiple gardens as part of that city's Groundwork Somerville program with the help of state funding.

Recognizing that the larger focus on community agriculture is in more urban areas, Bubon said there is still value to them in more rural places.

"I do think that even in communities like Sturbridge," she said, "whether it's school yard gardens like Somerville did, or like Ms. Dumas said, on the Heins property, community gardens could have their place."

News staff writer Christopher Tanguay may be reached at (508) 909-4132, or by e-mail at ctanguay@stonebridgepress.com.

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