A Community of Gardens Bloom

Stamford VT Seed Savers – Stamford, VT

Volunteers at potato harvest

Helen Fields and her husband, Stephen Greene, are both long-time advocates and organizers for bringing gardens and garden-based education into the communities where they live and work. The couple’s most recent project is the Stamford VT Seed Savers, a local garden education program, growing and seed saving at the town school/community center. 

Stamford-masked ranger volunteers distribute seeds and plants to the community on Green Up Day

In response to the pandemic, the group tripled their efforts. The gardens that they continued to grow on school grounds in the absence of students transformed into a “food for the people” garden, donating produce to the local food shelf. Additionally a community member donated land for growing larger storage crops, like potatoes, for donation. And the group collaborated with the Select Board to send a letter out to 300 households that included all the resources available to residents if they needed help–what to do if you need food, how you can make yourself food secure, and how to request a raised bed for your own home. Helen says that the idea was, “…to help people realize in this moment of devastation that there are people here to help you.” Many were heartened by the letter.

Helen heard about Vermont Victory Gardens and saw the immediate connection to what they were already doing in Stamford. “VT Victory Gardens was exciting because it was like, hey, we’re already doing that…I’ve been wanting VT Victory Gardens for years…VT Victory Gardens was a dream come true for me.”

Planting raised bed at local retirement home

As a result, 15 raised beds were built with the help of volunteers and funding from The Grassroots Fund–at people’s homes and at a retirement community. Many people gave a donation which went back into the Stamford VT Seed Savers fund when they received their garden bed. Several families who received gardens volunteered to give back in-kind, and volunteered at the school garden.

The project was not without challenges: the food shelf only accepted produce in quantities of at least 150 pounds (to evenly distribute to clients); animals consumed large amounts of ripe produce at both donation gardens; and volunteer support was limited at key times in the season as people became concerned about the Coronavirus and stopped volunteering in the community.

Harvest for donation

Still, the group continued to meet on Zoom regularly, the gardens were replanted, people were grateful for the fresh food, and some of the most beautiful gardens grew all over the area this season. A  community member commented to Helen this summer, “There used to be about 50 gardens in town and now there are about 100.” The group also discovered new ways to bring food to the community, setting up weekly during the outdoor food pantry pick-up with a table of fresh vegetables and, in place of the Annual Stamford Harvest Fest, they worked with other community members to collect vegetables, so that the local food pantry could cook them up, ultimately packaging and redistributing about 300 lbs of food to families through the food shelf.

Helen’s proudest moments from the season were seeing the blooming of new gardens across the area, including one woman they helped to get started right on Route 9 in Bennington. As Helen puts it, “She has the most beautiful garden of all of us right now. She even has a farm stand.” This new gardener has become an advocate for their work, telling her neighbors, “You should join the Stamford VT Seed Savers. They’re the ones who taught us how to do this.”

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