Friday, June 5, 2015

The Community Gardens of Greenwich

“Know the story of your food.”  That is one mantra of Greenwich Community Gardens, a local non-profit that is responsible for Greenwich’s two community gardens. As explained by Founder and Assistant Garden Director Patricia Degelmann Sechi, “if you’re growing your own food, you not only know your own story but you’re writing your story, and what’s really fun to think about is that we’re writing this story together.”
Growing gardens

Greenwich’s first community garden was started by Sechi and volunteers in 2009, on a 15,000 square foot plot of property off of Hamilton Avenue and across a footbridge behind Armstrong Court.  With the strong support and help of the community, Sechi led the way in clearing the small jungle that had grown on a once thriving piece of land, formerly used as a garden for residents in the 60s, 70s and 80s.  Though they had no funding, the team of local volunteers and organizations were able to repair the existing irrigation and fencing and to obtain donations to start what is now known as the Armstrong Court Community Garden.

Today, the garden boasts 125 4’x8’ gardening beds, 2 storage sheds, a sensory garden, and native gardens to welcome migratory birds and local butterfly species.  Participants at the garden enjoy a real sense of community when congregating at the community center, found at the middle of the garden, which boasts a pergola, gardening classes and even a wood burning pizza oven built by the Junior League of Greenwich.

With the help of Wheels in the Woods, an organization dedicated to universal access nature trails, gardening and housing, Greenwich Community Gardens was able to open Greenwich’s second community garden on Bible Street in Cos Cob.  The plot selected had originally been deeded to the town by Colonel Montgomery (a former Greenwich resident and co-founder of what is today the world’s largest accounting firm, PWC), for horticultural purposes, but had turned into a dumping-station for leaves.  Once again with the help and support of the community, the mountains of leaves were transformed into a beautiful community garden, which opened in May of 2014.
Cropped Garden

The 12,000 square foot Bible Street garden boasts 99 beds, 12 of which are universal access beds, meaning that they have features that make gardening possible for those with restricted mobility.  Although the garden is already fully subscribed, the vision for Greenwich’s second community garden has not yet been fulfilled, and future plans include the construction of a pergola, beehives and an apiary.  There is also hope that the garden will one day feature a composting site and large-scale rainwater harvesting.

At the heart of these projects is the idea that gardening should be available to all residents of Greenwich, and special efforts have been made to remove any barriers to participation that may exist, whether physical or financial.  To that end, tools, seeds and other gardening equipment have been generously donated by local organizations, so that people wanting to garden just need to register in the beginning of the year, then just show up and have fun. In efforts to include those with physical ailments, the universal access beds at the Bible Street garden were built with higher benches and narrower beds.

For kids (and certainly some adults!) “fun” is the focus, especially at the Armstrong Court Community Garden where children can crawl through the bean tunnel, enjoy the occasional lady-bug dance or kid-friendly gardening class.  Beyond the fun, participating in gardening allows children to learn firsthand the importance of sharing, cooperation and responsibility.

But gardening is not just beneficial for kids, as adult members have reported that participating in the community gardens has not only given them a real sense of community, but has also given them the opportunity to grow their very own fresh, organic, local food.  Members also enjoy exercise, stress relief, solace and an appreciation of nature from participating in the gardens.
Yummy greens!

Perhaps the most noteworthy feature of Greenwich’s community gardens is its endeavor not only to make gardening available to all residents of Greenwich, but also to undertake the project in a morally and socially responsible way.  The latter becomes apparent when one takes note of the several garden beds that are reserved for growing food to donate to Neighbor to Neighbor, a local nonprofit. Several independent gardeners also donate portions of their personal crops to the organization as part of their “Neighborly Harvest Program.”  Special consideration has also been made for migratory birds traveling along the Atlantic flyway, and a native garden has been planted so that traveling birds may have a natural environment to stop in along their way.

What began as the vision of a local Greenwich resident to have a community garden has now turned into a local Greenwich non-profit with an advisory board, a steering committee at Armstrong Court, and a building team at Bible Street.  All members are volunteers who dedicate their own free time toward making this project a success.  Due to the support and funding from local individuals, businesses, grants, garden clubs and foundations, we are very fortunate to have two wonderful community gardens in our town, and we can only hope that the future holds continued expansion of this wonderful project.

Prepared by Erin E. Adams, Greenwich Oral History Project volunteer

Patricia Degelmann Sechi’s interview, “Greenwich Community Gardens,” conducted by volunteer, Suzanne M. Seton, July 16, 2014, is available through the Greenwich Oral History Project office located on the lower level of the Greenwich library or in the reference area on the first floor.