Growing together

This is the post I promised earlier, at the bottom of this post about the veggie garden I greatly expanded at home this spring. This one is about a veggie garden, too, but I wanted the post to stand alone — to get a headline, as we used to say down at the newspaper factory.

This other garden is a cooperative community venture of a dozen-ish neighbors in my town, located in the fabulous Robbins Farm Park just a block away. It was conceived by town stalwart Oakes Plimpton, who says he was motivated by a Michael Pollan interview by Bill Moyers about urban farming.

I didn’t see the interview, but I can relate, on two grounds: Anyone who reads my posts likely knows my admiration for Pollan (here's one example, among 10 posts that mention him) — or really, “the whole Michael Pollan thing,” as interview subject Phillip Burgess once put it in a story I wrote for the Globe.

Too, I’ve been taken by the forces of urban farming, beginning with Gabriel Erde-Cohen and mates at Green City Growers and later Charlie Radoslovich of Rad Urban Farmers. As I also wrote for the Globe, both are using small unused or underused plots in settled areas to bring food production closer to people, both literally and figuratively.

The concept of a disparate group using one plot of land for gardening is fairly common, of course, but the RFG adds the element of cooperation — instead of people farming adjacent plots, all of our decisions are joint. Later today, in fact, we’re gathering for a family-members-included picnic, followed by a joint steering meeting. I can’t say I love what sometimes can seem like endless give-and-take on issues I’m not passionate about, but that comes with community.

What’s in it for me, then? Plenty.

I love the fellowship; I’ve made several friends, and am definitely more connected to my town as a result, a process proceeds slowly still, even six years after moving here.

Just as valuable, for me, is the tutelage I’m receiving. I am easily the least experienced member, and these people really know their gardening. I could have done a bunch of surfing or book reading to try to learn about what my three beds have committed me to, but it would have been a scattershot, solitary pursuit. This way, I get to observe and ask questions of experienced people.

Also, I hear their discussions and pick up on points I never would have considered, never mind asked about. And I’ve been watching as chief gardening officer Elisabeth Carr-Jones infills spots where a seed or seedling didn’t take, while I would likely have left each one as unfulfilled potential, if not reminders of failures.

An early garden dividendAnd I’ve not even mentioned the produce: Already, I’ve enjoyed a couple of spring onions and a handful of collard leaves, and a couple of heads of lettuce and a handful of radishes await our next salad.

We each had to pay $75 to join, as well as commit to about 15 hours a month, to be divided between working in the garden and on educational outreach. The program is governed by the Parks and Recreation Department, which made such outreach a condition of approval. Members Alan Carr and Dick Harmer, especially, have created a very robust website, to which we are all supposed to contribute, that is becoming a resource for anyone who wants to garden in these parts — not only anecdotal stuff, but information on what and when we planted, whether it came from seed or seedlings, where we got it, what we paid for it, what grew well and what didn’t, etc. Among the initiatives are a “veggie school” and veggie adoptions, under which each member takes three or four crops and contributes running commentary on their progress through the year.

The veggie whose name need not be spokeI have tomatoes, chives, and zucchini. As a latecomer to the group — I think I was the last joiner — I got the gleanings, including beets, but I am a beet hater (they taste like dirt!) and its supporters among the group were not at all pleased with the prospect of the beet beat reporter being a beet beater. So I traded (up) to tomatoes. (While I’m writing this post, one of the tasks I’m not doing is getting up to speed on the group blog.)

Another element of our outreach is making ourselves available to teachers from the Brackett School, right across the street, who might want to include growing in their classes. We also get a lot of folks who drop by, often with their young kids, to see what we’ve got cooking. “We” share our views and practices with other gardeners, and invite anyone in who wants to help, if only for a few minutes. Oakes, who lives just on the other side of the park from us, makes himself available most afternoons and almost always has a few visitors.

Author and wellness innovator Michael Prager helps smart companies
make investments in employee wellbeing that pay off in corporate success.
Video | Services | Clients