Garden Spotlight: Metro Way Community Garden

Metro Way Community Garden - Barre

Metro Way Community Garden – Barre

By Jenna Banning, VCGN Volunteer

As many of us know, gardens, especially community gardens, can provide both personal therapy and great social interactions. This was certainly true for Jessica Sanderson, who, while recovering from two major surgeries in 2009, began gardening at the new Metro Way Community Garden in Barre as a way to reconnect with her community and grow her own food. Jessica is currently Metro Way Community Garden’s Outreach Coordinator and Treasurer (although she will be passing along these roles this year), and after long admiring Metro Way’s community connections and positive attitude, we got the chance to connect with Jessica this month to learn more about what’s going on in Barre.

Jenna: Please tell us about the Metro Way Community Garden.

Jessica: The site was donated by the Mayor of Barre, Thom Lauzon, who owns the entire property of the Metro Way Center. There have always been twenty raised beds, three of them twice as tall for handicapped accessibility. The cob shed was built from a $1,000 grant and begun in 2010, then finished in 2012. We have a core of 12+ gardeners who come back each year, with the remaining 6 -8 beds being used each year by new members.

Jenna: I read that in 2012, volunteers from the Village-building Convergence helped to build the garden shed. How did this group become involved with the Metro Way garden?

Jessica: The Village-building Convergence [VbC] was the source of the original grant to build a natural-materials, permanent structure for a tool shed. It became a huge project with dozens of volunteers, and took three summers to finish. I believe Joann Darling, Sandra Lory and Emily Kaminski [early founders of the garden] applied for the grant, which they knew about because of their involvement with VbC.

Jenna: Have other community groups been involved with your garden’s development?

Jessica: We have had the support and membership of many groups at the garden. We are next door neighbors to Return House, a young offenders program run by WCYSB [Washington County Youth Service Bureau], and they are responsible for keeping the property mown and watered. They help in many other ways, too. We also have beds that are grown specifically for some groups, including Nourishing Transitions, the Barre Senior Center and CVCOA [Central Vermont Council on Aging], and The Galley (a congregate meal site for seniors and others.) The Charlie Semprebon Fund, of Barre, gave us a $3,500 grant to buy compost, rebuild beds, and buy tools and benches.

IMG_3489Jenna: We’ve heard that the Metro Way Community Garden has done an excellent job of integrating into the community. What have been some of the biggest challenges in your relations with the broader Barre community? What have been the most successful ways of building a positive relationship?

Jessica: Building awareness of food justice and accessibility to food is on the rise in Barre, an urban food desert. We have been lucky to ride that wave because our little garden is tucked away, albeit, in plain site, and very few people knew we existed. The building of the Cob Shed gave us visibility in Barre and has been a huge help in giving people a sight anchor when talking about the community garden. We have participated every summer in the Barre Heritage and Home Coming Days at the end of July by having a parade float with members from all the community gardens participating. We have held many events there, and they are gaining in popularity – especially our Poetry Faire, last summer. We also table at the Barre Farmers Market to raise awareness.

 Jenna: We’ve also heard that there have been repeated threats of turning the garden site into a parking lot. Can you describe these experiences, and how the gardening community has resisted the attempts?

 Jessica: Right now, the land owner, Thom Lauzon, has asked us to vacate the property upon demand, or at the end of the growing season this year, and we are talking with other sites about a permanent home for the community garden. Because it is private land, and his ownership gives him the right to do what he wants with the property, we have negotiated a settlement with him that will allow some raised beds and as much green space as is possible, to be left there. He has agreed to move the cob shed, beds, tools and perennial plants to the new site for us. If the community garden was on public land, then more actions would be taken to have it remain where it is.

Jenna: What are the future plans for Metro Way Community Garden?

Jessica: I have every hope that we will have a new, larger space next spring that will be a hub, if you like, to all the community gardens in the city.

Jenna: What advice would you share with other community gardeners?

Jessica: Don’t reinvent the wheel. Join the VT Community Garden Network and get help and advice from the people who did go through a gazillion plans to make a wheel, and finally got it right. Learn from those who have done it before and follow best practices to save yourself extra labor.  Also, make your gatherings fun – Pot Lucks with the whole family, games and songs, so people will come and share the labor and the fruits. Don’t send out laundry lists of chores, praise people constantly, and remember to have FUN!

[We couldn’t agree more.]

Jenna: And finally, what are you most excited to grow this season?

Jessica: Herbs! Why pay $5 a bunch for basil every week, when for $4 you can grow $200!

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