White River Junction: Welcome to Garden Village

Click here for photos from the tour!

On an unseasonably misty day in August a crew of local Upper Valley food organizers, advocates and gardeners hosted Vermont Community Garden Network (VCGN) staff for a tour of White River Junction community and school gardens and public orchards. The Upper Valley region is recognized statewide as a hub for local food and garden activity. White River Junction alone is home to more than ten community growing spaces—places for community members to work together to grow, maintain, harvest and celebrate.

The tour started with two workplace gardens—at the Upper Valley Food Co-op and in downtown White River Junction at ARIS Solutions. These gardens are for employees—created as a part of VCGN’s Green Thumbs at Work program with the Vermont Department of Health to encourage workplace wellness through gardening and consuming fresh garden vegetables. Becky Kondi, ARIS Solutions employee and garden coordinator, sees the garden as a great place for all employees to decompress during working hours. On a personal level, without a garden at home, Becky has found “It’s been really nice to have something at work that I can take care of and see it produce.”

From downtown the tour headed over the train tracks and down the hill to Ratcliff Park, a large field bordered on both sides by patches of towering green. On one side is the White River Community Garden, established in 2006 by the Upper Valley Food Co-op and recently taken over by a group of enthusiastic and organized neighbors. The community garden is open to the general public. Residents can rent a plot for a small fee, and participate in a community of growers. Joe Mastromonaco and his wife Meghan just moved to the area and had never gardened before. As first time members of the community garden, Joe said, “It’s been a very rewarding experience to come together with some like-minded folks to grow something from nothing. Meghan and I have learned so much along the way and are now enjoying the fruits of our labor. And it’s delicious!”

Across the field sits an oasis of fruit forests, experimental vegetable patches, and winding meditative paths and labyrinths—all a part of the Center for Transformational Practice (CTP). The CTP serves the community as a meditation center and permaculture gardening education and demonstration site. According to CTP co-founder and gardener, Elisabeth Cadle, “The CTP gardens consider permaculture principles to experiment with and learn from different methods of earth care such as Hugalkultur, fruit guilds and labyrinth gardens as an approach to contemplative land practice.”

Woven throughout the tour was the White River Junction Fruit Walk, featuring fruit trees, permaculture guild plantings and berry patches in public places for public use—including some of the gardens on the tour as well as Town Hall, a public park, and Raspberry Revolution Park in downtown White River Junction. These spaces and their bounty are thanks to the efforts of the Upper Valley Apple Corps, a group of volunteers that plants and cares for public, free-for-the-picking fruit and nut trees while leading trainings and organizing celebrations to raise awareness and build community.

The tour landed on the other side of the White River for its last few stops, beginning with White River Elementary School. The terraced perennial pollinator gardens on the back hillside of the school were originally spearheaded by Karen Ganey and are now cared for by Autum Siegler through the Creative Lives Afterschool Program.  The new labyrinth and lower gardens designed and cared for by Elisabeth Cadle of the CTP began as project of Creative Lives and are now integrated into grades k-12 as a tool for students and staff to use during the school day. According to Elisabeth, “This collaboration emphasizes building relationships within communities, connecting education to the natural world and providing a safe place to inspire mindfulness, earth care and curiosity.”

Further up the hill sits another school garden, nestled between the far side of the Hartford Memorial Middle School building and the tennis courts. Ruth Fleishman, retired middle school teacher, hopes to find ways to help teachers take advantage of the space in whatever way they can: tying it into the curriculum, creating a garden club, or just bringing classes out to do some gardening. This year the garden is split between New World crops (corn, beans, squash, potatoes, peppers, tomatoes) and Old World crops (rye, wheat, cucumbers, carrots, and even a tiny patch of rice) with the idea of helping students make connections to food origins. Most of the produce from this garden goes to the Upper Valley Haven Food Shelf and some is enjoyed in various ways by the students. Ruth sees powerful potential for gardens in all areas of the curriculum and as an important part of school culture, and is looking for school champions at the Middle School or the High School to help her make that happen.

The final garden stop was at the Upper Valley Haven, one of the state’s most impressive examples of edible landscaping. Nearly every green space of the three building campus is covered in gardens: fresh herbs right out the front door of the adult shelter, walkways with cherry tomatoes within arm’s reach, bus stop picking gardens, sidewalk flower cutting gardens, curbside calendula and sunflowers, fruit trees and berry bushes throughout the landscape. The grounds are kept up by a team of Extension Master Gardeners and Haven volunteers, led by Faith Alexandre and Jane Metcalf. Faith has been around long enough to see the gardens “not just grow across the campus, but grow into the Haven’s mission, helping to provide food, shelter, education and problem solving.” The garden and grounds harvest is used by the on-site food shelf, shelter guests, the “Good Eats” meals served in the Haven’s Caruso Cafe and the children’s program.

The tour ended at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, where VCGN organized a gathering of community and school garden leaders and supporters to discuss the direction of the community-based garden movement in Vermont. This summer gathering was part of a statewide tour to help inform the organization’s strategic direction and increase impact across the state. Stay tuned for updates on VCGN’s strategic plan! Click here for photos from our White River Junction garden tour.

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