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Community Garden at Marsh Sanctuary Has Strong First Summer

Samantha Kopf – chappaqua.patch.com

August 30, 2010

This summer has been good for the community garden at the Marsh Memorial Sanctuary. In fact, it was better than good.

According to Peggy Clarke, co-founder of InterGenerate, the group that manages the garden, things have been going phenomenally well.

Clarke, who also maintains the gardens of people who are on vacation and helps care for InterGenerate’s five plots, explained that although its contract with Marsh Memorial Sanctuary called for the garden to be 75 percent filled within three years, 100 percent of the garden’s plots were claimed within two months.

“This is a 90-plot garden,” she said. “We were hoping, crossing our fingers, to have 70 plots filled….there are no empty spots. At all….We thought that we would be scrounging for people.”

“How do you know the difference between a plant and a weed?” Jodi Stokhamer asks, surveying a line of her not-yet-bloomed turnips. “It’s in a row.”

Stokhamer, the owner of three plots at the garden, is one example of how dirt, water, and, according to her, “faith,” sprouted new life in Mount Kisco. However, she was never a gardener. Instead she “pretty much hit the produce aisle at ShopRite.” Now, with a freezer filled with items such as celery soup and roasted tomatoes, Stokhamer is not only experienced, but invigorated. “I’ve paid school taxes for thirty years, and I’ve never had kids,” Stokhamer said. But now, she is a member of “the community that [she's] always wanted to be a part of.”

Through word of mouth and ample news coverage, the Mount Kisco community heard about and flocked to the garden planting tomatoes, watermelon, eggplant, zucchini, pumpkins and many other treats. The verdant state of the field is a big contrast to this spring, when planting began on a barren, L-shapeed field.

The gardeners are families, individuals and groups such as The Boys & Girls Club of Northern Westchester. Although Clarke expected mostly people living in apartments to take advantage of the community garden, she soon realized that people from all over, even those living in private homes, were coming. That’s because the garden is more than a garden; it has turned into a spot for the community to get together, socialize, and grow with other people.

The community garden has provided its participants with fresh produce, beautiful flowers (even sunflowers!), and new friends. Although plot owners are only responsible for their own areas – plus the communal plots, which are filled with plants donated mostly from Bedford’s Perennial Gardens – Clarke says the gardeners have, on their own, “divided the garden into sections (the blue, the orange, the red) and they are calling them neighborhoods.”

The blue neighborhood watches over its blue neighbors, orange over orange; a ripe batch of tomatoes triggers a phone call alert to an absent owner. Clarke is happy to see that “people help their neighbors a lot.”

If the social aspect of gardening surprised Clarke, the fence-climbing snapping turtles shocked her! The excitement that people feel towards the garden is stunningly remarkable as well. For instance, “the Boys and Girls Club showed up to work one of the communal plots, and were so psyched about it, that we gave them a plot of their own. They then planted chili peppers and have been [at the garden] every single week. Sometimes twice a week!” Young children from the group bring their parents to see the vegetables and take home fresh produce that, if it wasn’t from the garden, would probably end up getting fed to the dog.

InterGenerate has been following developments this summer in close detail. It set up a blog, called inthecommunitygarden.blogspot.com, to track the site’s progress. Posts on the blog include tips on watering, weed control and a heads up on tomato hornworm.

Although the garden will close Nov. 15, the level of excitement is expected to stay high through the winter, fall and into next season. The mostly emptied garden will be blanketed with a ground cover, such as “barely, or anything that grows quickly, low, and full” until April of 2011. Clarke expects next season to bring a lot more of the same: Sharing food with neighbors, swapping gardening tips with new friends and maintaining the plan to “build community around gardening and food security.”

It will bring changes as well: each neighborhood will have its own community plot, a committee will be formed to address the needs of the food bank and, overall, the garden will be more community, and less first come first serve, based.

2 Responses to “Community Garden at Marsh Sanctuary Has Strong First Summer”

  1. Thanks for typing this, I hope you will share much more of this in the future.

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