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Boston, MA: Community Garden Council Elections

  • Subject: [cg] Boston, MA: Community Garden Council Elections
  • From: Adam36055@aol.com
  • Date: Mon, 18 Oct 2004 10:26:05 EDT

These candidates are down-to-earth
Gardeners unite, create new council
By Jason Nielsen, Boston Globe Correspondent  |  October 17, 2004

How will your garden grow?

It's a question that Boston Community Garden Council candidates like Pat Grady, 65, of Mission Hill, were asking their fellow gardeners as they ran for the council's inaugural board. Grady, a member of the leadership committee at the Mission Hill Community Garden, said she didn't expect quite as tight a race as the presidential one, given that every candidate who showed up last Thursday was expected to win a seat.

"It was not going to be the Bush-Kerry campaign," Grady said. "There's not the degree of differences of people running for council. A lot of groups knew each other, were friendly, and said hello."

Grady was one of 12 candidates interested in a seat on the board of the nonprofit garden council, which has been meeting informally for the last two years. The uncontested election was a step toward formalizing the nonprofit and its goal of organizing the city's nearly 250 community and school gardens. The council was set up by the Boston Natural Areas Network, a Boston-based nonprofit that owns 49 gardens in the city.

Not a member of the Green Party or any other for that matter, Grady said that being a candidate was about experience. She described her gardening style as "hodgepodge, tiggly wiggly" compared with other gardeners, who plant in tidy rows. Her strengths, she said, are building up soil, growing ordinary vegetables (beans, tomatoes, collard greens, sweet peppers), and dealing with a diverse group of gardeners.

"I would advocate for preservation of existing community gardens and work with the city on issues like trash removals, water fees, and continuation of the wonderful compost program," she said pre-election. "I would also be interested in sharing the knowledge of specific horticultural technique and pest management."

The council's aim is to provide support for community gardens. It would help gardeners acquire their land, purchase garden supplies in bulk and share techniques and tools. It is funded by a $50,000 grant that the Natural Areas Network received from The Boston Foundation and an anonymous donor.

Valerie Burns, president of the Boston Natural Areas Network, said that she believes it's the first time any organization has tried to unite the roughly 10,000 gardeners in the Boston area. Her organization, formerly known as Boston Natural Areas Fund, merged in 2002 with Garden Futures, another environmental nonprofit, leaving it sole owner of 49 gardens. She said that it seemed that if community gardening in Boston was going to grow, it needed a more formal structure.

"Your plants won't grow unless tended with water and care," said Burns. "Community gardening won't flourish unless gardeners work at it in coordinated ways, and that is what the council is recognizing."

Boston Natural Areas Network owns gardens in Dorchester, East Boston, Fenway, Jamaica Plain, and Roxbury. According to its strategic plan, the four most active gardening areas in Boston are Dorchester (25 percent of active gardens), Roxbury (21 percent), Jamaica Plain (17 percent), and the South End (14 percent). The Fenway-Kenmore area represents about 1 percent of active gardens in Boston.

Clarence Carleton, 51, of Dorchester, said that he could use more support to help the elderly gardeners at the community garden on Leland Street in Dorchester. He said that while he can do most of the upkeep himself, cleanup help at the beginning and end of the season would go a long way.

"More people should be involved in community gardening," said Carleton. "I like the whole idea of nurturing something other than your children," he said. "For me, it's a good release. If I have problems, I tend to go into the garden, where I am totally in control."

He said that he learned how to garden from his mother and has been gardening for about nine years at the Leland Street garden. He said that he typically grows vegetables from his native South like turnip greens and sweet potatoes. He said that every year he tries something new; this year, he grew corn.

Longtime South End resident Sarah Hutt, a member of the leadership committee at the Berkeley Street Community Garden in the South End, said that she likes the idea of an umbrella organization for Boston community gardens. A member of the South End-Lower Roxbury Open Space Land Trust, a nonprofit that operates similarly to how the Boston Community Garden Council would run, she explained that the Land Trust allows the community gardens to pool their resources for maintenance and supplies.

"It's one organization to make arrangements, orchestrate times people are available and when the trucks deliver, so to not overtax the Parks Department," she said. "There are master gardening classes people can take if interested in developing garden skills."

She said that gardeners at the Berkeley Street Community Garden pay an annual $40 fee to the garden organization, which keeps half for garden maintenance and sends the rest to the Land Trust.

Hutt said that her ideal council member would be someone who loves gardening.

"I just want down-to-earth, practical people who like to garden," she said. "It's about people and not something esoteric and conceptual like 'what is a garden?' "

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