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Tommy Thompson garden (Vermont) on sales block

  • Subject: [cg] Tommy Thompson garden (Vermont) on sales block
  • From: Don Boekelheide dboekelheide@yahoo.com
  • Date: Mon, 7 Aug 2006 15:11:34 -0700 (PDT)

Poster's note: No gardens are more significant for the
current generation of American community gardeners
than those in Burlington, VT. The late Tommy
Thompson's "Gardens For All" program in the 1970s can
be seen as one of the most important precursors to
ACGA, and led to the formation of the National
Gardening Association. Vermont now has some of the
most community gardening friendly policies in the US.
That this garden is up for sale, evidently with little
input from gardeners, reminds us that community
gardeners need to be constantly vigilant, involved and

I'm planning to resume my 'community garden news
service' on this list, and this article is an ideal

Hope to see everyone in Los Angeles! - DB

Burlington Free Press, Burlington, VT
Sunday, August 6, 2006

Dissent grows in the Intervale pending sale of land
By John Briggs
Free Press Staff Writer

Change is coming to the Intervale, but Wendy Coe, who
gardens there, isn't convinced it's a good thing.

"It's a little hunk of sanctuary down there," she

Coe and other gardeners are worried because they've
learned that Burlington Electric Department, which
owns the four- to five-acre Tommy Thompson Community
Garden plot, plans to sell it and an additional 195
acres to the nonprofit Intervale Center for $200,000. 

The sale of 28 percent of the 700-acre Intervale,
negotiated between BED and the Intervale Center
without public notice or involvement by the
administration of Mayor Bob Kiss, the Parks and
Recreation Department or the public, was placed on the
City Council's "consent agenda" for its July 10
meeting. Items on the consent agenda are approved as a
group and not discussed individually.

The administration, with the Intervale Center in
agreement, put the brakes on the deal, however. Chief
Administrative Officer Jonathan Leopold said the sale
won't occur before the council is fully briefed in
September. The Finance Board will receive an updated
"memorandum of agreement" between the city and the
Center on Monday. 

Leopold said that the Intervale parcel is currently
assessed at slightly less than $400,000. He said the
sale at half that price to the Intervale Center is
"reasonable" because the Center's raison d'etre is, as
its mission statement puts it, "to develop farm- and
land-based enterprises that generate economic and
social opportunity while protecting natural
resources." The Center has been leasing much of the
purchase land from BED and owns additional acres in
the Intervale. 

Leopold called the Center "the ideal buyer" of the
land. "This is not an adversarial transaction," he
said. "The Center has been a good partner with the
city over the years. This is beneficial to the city
and to the Center." 

BED has leased the community garden portion of the
land to the Parks and Recreation Department, which has
run the garden program -- subleasing the approximately
150 small plots there to individual gardeners. Some,
such as Coe, have tended their plots for more than two
decades. A number of the gardeners are tenants in the
city's Old North End. 

Coe is unhappy with the way the proposed sale
developed. So is Garth Allen. Allen has had a plot
there for nearly a decade. He says the Parks and
Recreation Department has generally been a good
landlord and isn't sure the Center would be so
sensitive. Coe and Allen think the garden should be
protected by the city from future political and
commercial vagaries. 

"If there's discussion going on, I think we're a
pretty significant stakeholder," Allen said. "Is this
going to improve things, or add more strain?" 

Many of the gardeners have become strongly attached to
their plots and don't want the garden moved to another
section of the Intervale, Coe said, as the agreement
between BED and the Center suggests. One woman has a
flower bed of perennials, she said, and she recalled a
gardener, 20 years or so ago, who buried his cat in
his plot and planted flowers near the grave. 

Jim Flint, executive director of Friends of Burlington
Gardens, a 900-person-strong organization, said the
26-year-old Thompson plots have become "almost sacred"
to many gardeners -- like "a small village." 

He worries that in the future the Intervale Center,
which leases 144 acres from BED and subleases those to
commercial farmers, could decide that the land should
be put to "a higher use" than amateur gardening. 

Kit Perkins, who heads the Intervale Center, urged in
a July 31 email to Center supporters that they attend
Monday's council meeting to "testify in favor" of the
purchase. She told them the land sale would enhance
the Center's ability to raise grant money, allow
"long-term" leases to the commercial farmers using
Center land and would help "preserve and maintain this
sacred land as a working landscape, employment base,
conservation area and passive recreation areas

She said last week that she is personally committed to
leaving the garden plots where they are. "It's one of
the most important community garden sites in the
state," she said. "Our intent is to have the Tommy
Thompson garden there forever." 

The purchase agreement stipulates continued city
ownership of 1 percent of the land to ensure that its
use couldn't be fundamentally changed without city
permission. It also says the garden will stay where it
is for the next 25 years, with an option thereafter to
renew there or in another comparable spot in the
Intervale. Such a move, the memorandum of
understanding says, would require the consent of the
City Council. 

Mayor Bob Kiss told the council Thursday he intends to
have a public meeting on the proposed sale prior to
the council meeting Sept. 5. Some councilors are still
miffed that the proposed sale moved onto the council
agenda last month without any council involvement.
Council President Ian Carleton, a member of the
Finance Board, said that as late as Wednesday he still
had no detailed information on the transaction. 

"The issue as I see it," said Russ Ellis, D-Ward 4,
"is that we as councilors know precious little about
this, and the community at large knows even less. I
think it is ultimately going to endanger the
continuity of the community garden. 

"I am unhappy that issues like this are being bandied
about without sufficient time for the citizenry at
large and the council to find out what the issues
are," he said, "and whether it's a good idea to sell
200 acres in the Intervale or not." 

Contact John Briggs at 660-1863 or

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