Birth of a Giving Garden

By Gordon Clark, Coordinator, Vermont Victory Gardens

Inspired by a Hunger Council meeting early in 2019, some residents in the Village of Barton, Vermont, close to the Canadian border in Orleans County, decided to build a few raised beds for local residents in need. There were no takers. Issues of time, experience, skills and tools all seemed to stand in the way.

Later that year, and right before the pandemic struck, they changed course, and decided to turn it into a 100% community run garden with a mission to grow food for those in need – and that’s when things exploded.

Volunteers Pam Kennedy and Cindy Delano said that the conversion from a standard community garden, one with individually managed plots, to a true collective “giving garden” brought forth a huge response. A grant from Vermont Community Garden Network to help build additional plots was essential, but the outpouring from the local community was both overwhelming and deeply gratifying.

Donations flowed in. Contributions of tools, a shed and a unique (“brilliant”) watering system (utilizing a tank capturing rainwater from the nearby Barton Public Library) made more extensive gardening possible. And between 15-17 volunteers made the garden run in 2020 – “power volunteers” in the words of Cindy and Pam: smart, experienced gardeners, UVM Extension Master Gardeners among them, with multiple skills and interests.

With more beds and some additional open land right next to them, the re-named and re-purposed Barton Community Giving Garden grew tomatoes, zucchini, potatoes, beans, lettuce, broccoli, radishes, carrots, winter and summer squash and onions. Food was donated to the local senior center, Head Start program, Green Mountain Farm to School (free meals for kids), and a subsidized housing project.  The recipients eagerly took whatever the garden had to offer, “no questions asked,” and nothing went to waste.

There have been problems, of course, as with any garden: it’s a constant battle with knotweed (their garden is pesticide-free), and groundhogs are a significant threat. (They are in the process of creating a walking path around the garden to encourage people to bring their dogs!) Volunteers also need to bring in water at times when rainwater is not sufficient.

But the garden, which is in the center of the village, has not only flourished in its primary mission as a producer of food for their neighbors in need, but also blossomed into a true community gathering spot. (In their words, “if you eat, you’re welcome in the garden.”) In 2021, a grant will allow them to build a small amphitheater, and they will be holding library storytelling there, inviting Vermont authors to speak, and bringing more visual art into the garden.

Most importantly, perhaps, they will be further expanding their growing area to produce more food this year – of course! – and are beginning a mentoring program to train new gardeners.

More local food and more gardeners – what’s not to love?!?

Barton might seem somewhat distant to our fellow Vermonters, but when it comes to building community, and to the mutual aid and comfort of food, they are most assuredly in the heart of the village.

Good work, Barton – and thank you!

** Vermont Victory Gardens, a UVM Extension Master Gardener project partnering with VCGN, works to support, inspire and network community gardens in our state producing food for those in need. Interested? Contact us here.

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