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Cambridge, Mass: Community Garden Meets Government PlannersWith Mixed Results

  • Subject: [cg] Cambridge, Mass: Community Garden Meets Government PlannersWith Mixed Results
  • From: Adam36055@aol.com
  • Date: Sun, 3 Apr 2005 21:15:25 EDT

This year, after revamp, they won't all get back to the garden
By Colleen Walsh, Boston Globe Correspondent  |  April 3, 2005

On a recent raw morning, Cambridge resident Karan Marsh, 53, carefully
patrolled a small empty plot of land near Central Square for garbage. She
smiled as
she discovered the first signs of spring under some errant yellow police tape.
''There's something," she said, pointing to little sprigs of green reaching
for the sun.

For years, Marsh and dozens of others gardened at the site, at the corner of
Boardman Street and Broadway. But since 2003 the land has been in transition,
redesigned to allow room for a public park as well.

This year the revamped garden and park will debut, and while Marsh plans to
return to the garden to help with children's programs offered there, she does
so with a heavy heart.

''They broke up a beautiful tradition," she said of the city's work to
reconfigure the site. ''It was just such a beautiful part of nature."

The change was painful for Marsh and many of the site's other gardeners. For
almost two decades the plot offered a robust array of fruits, vegetables, and
flowers, with about 40 local gardeners tending and maintaining the site
meticulously. According to former gardeners, it began in 1975 when employees
the Squirrel Brand Co., the candy company that owned the property, and a few
neighbors started to grow greenery in the empty lot. Over time, more residents
got involved and the site was transformed into a lush city oasis.

''It had an enormous variety of plants," said Megan Brook, 52, a gardener
since the early '90s who doesn't plan to return, ''and much more than your
average city park and much more than your average front-yard garden. There
were so
many different gardens in it, and each plot was different."

In 1999 the land and the adjoining Squirrel Brand Co. building were sold to
the city, which decided to turn the building into low-income housing and use
the garden as a mixed-use site with space for both a community park and

For some the transition meant the loss of something special.

''What we could never convince anyone in the city of was how much the
passersby liked it the way it was," said Brook. ''People would walk by, and
would say thank you for taking care of this garden.

''I feel the city was unimaginative and bureaucratic, and although some
individuals tried, it was pretty clear to me that others did not want to try,
had their own agenda. I am all for tot lots. I am all for benches, but we
already have those. What we don't have is enough community gardens."

But city officials said they tried to accommodate the gardeners while
welcoming others to the site. ''The city has felt all along that the gardeners
played an important role in the community and have been good stewards of the
space," said Rebecca Fuentes, community relations manager for the Department
Public Works. ''We tried to maintain the spirit and the sense of the garden at
the site while opening it up to the broader community."

Others affiliated with the garden praised the city's efforts. ''I think the
city did a wonderful job in getting input from neighbors and gardeners and
trying to balance the needs and wants and interests of that area," said
Ramsay, 59, who helped run the garden for many years.

The former garden was run and managed by the gardeners themselves, but with
the redevelopment, the Cambridge Conservation Commission, which manages the
city's community garden program, decided to bring the garden under its
''It really wasn't in line with the way other community gardens were run. It
wasn't equitable, people were given huge amounts of space," said commission
director Jennifer Wright.

The redesign of the space allows for 35 uniform garden plots, each measuring
about 10 by 10 feet, conforming to the standard elsewhere in the city.
According to Wright, lots were made available to people on a first-come,
basis, and each spot was filled. Wright said the space will also continue to
accommodate local schools and youth groups that gardened there in the past.

Today the site is divided in two. One side includes a sitting area with
benches, a play area, and an arching trellis entranceway that supports a rose
saved by the city from the former garden. The other side of the lot houses the
community garden complete with connected pathways and a raised lot that is
handicapped accessible.

But despite the loss for some, other longtime guardians of the garden try to
remain upbeat. Pat Curran, 59, worked her small plot for years, growing a
variety of flowers and tomatoes, and though she has decided not to return, she
roots for its success. ''I loved what was there before. . . . But it still
remains to be seen how it will shake out, it may work fine, it's just
different. I
am hoping it will work fine. I am optimistic because there is no other reason
to be any other way."

According to Wright, gardening can begin at the site once the city has
several consecutive days without frost. 

The American Community Gardening Association listserve is only one of ACGA's services to community gardeners. To learn more about the ACGA and to find out how to join, please go to http://www.communitygarden.org

To post an e-mail to the list:  community_garden@mallorn.com

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