Bluffside Farm, connecting with the shores of Lake Memphremagog in Newport, Vermont, contains woodland, recreational trails, beaches, idyllic pasture and cultivated farmland. For the past two months, in partnership with the Vermont Land Trust, our ShiftMeals GrowTeam has been working on starting a collective community garden at Bluffside Farm.
For the past few farming seasons this land has been tended by farm crews from the Vermont Youth Conservation Corp. While engaging youth from the Newport community, the site has grown food for VYCC’s Health Care Share, a doctor prescribed CSA share. Due to reduced capacity stemming from the COVID-19 crisis, this year VYCC planted ¾ of an acre of low maintenance, longer term crops like Abenaki land link squash and potatoes to support their CSA program. Because of the pandemic we were eager to envision another way to keep the Newport community engaged with this land as well as support a stronger local food economy through a collective community garden.
At the end of May a group of VYCC staff and GrowTeam members from all around Vermont came to Bluffside to put up a deer fence and plant rows and rows of squash and potatoes. It was incredible to see how much could be accomplished in one day with so many strong and hardworking hands. A few weeks later the potatoes have finally popped up and the winter squash is ready to be weeded!
A couple weeks ago, Tracy Zschau, Vice President for Conservation, and Katherine Hancock, LEAP AmeriCorps Education & Outreach Coordinator from Vermont Land Trust (our awesome on-site partners and force behind making this garden happen) invited VLT staff out to Bluffside for the day. Folks from Eden Cider (delicious!), as well as Alida Farrell, from Green Mountain Farm to School also came out to help weed and plant. We transplanted lettuce, kale, cabbage, peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, basil, zucchini, acorn squash, pumpkins, and directed seeded beets, chard, carrots, sunflowers, corn, and sweet peas!
We are also grateful and excited to have Alida joining the Bluffside team as a Garden Mentor! Her expertise and commitment to the local community will allow anyone, who wants to learn, how to grow food. On all our GrowTeam sites, these mentors help build education into our programming, helping first time gardeners and farmers make best use of these plots.
We also connected with Bethany Dunbar, Community Programs Manager at the Center for an Agricultural Economy to hear about the work she has done starting a community garden at Atkins Field, in Hardwick, Vermont. Bethany has been so gracious in sharing her community insights with us, giving us honest feedback, and connecting us with mission aligned leaders in the Northeast part of the state.
This past Thursday a group came together for a visioning day and Open House at Bluffside Farm. In addition to the team we had previously engaged with, Robert Duggan, Orchard Manager at Atkin’s Field, Shuan Campbell from Barton Community Garden, Heidi Cooperstien from NEKCA Head Start, and Jean Hamilton, our Program Director at ShiftMeals gathered for the day. It was a true meeting of the minds on the land.
It’s hard to express in words the energy of the day. We invited everyone for a conversation and to see the garden and before long everybody was working together, weeding, tending the land and sharing ideas. It was wonderful to be in conversation with those so invested in the well being of their communities. We talked about engagement, growing techniques, garden models, challenges, and opportunities for collaboration. The day left many of us feeling motivated by the potential that these collective growing spaces can have. I walked away from the site reinvigorated in the work that we are doing and inspired by all those that have been working towards more resilient and local food systems for years.
The global pandemic’s impact on our local communities has allowed us to see not only how vulnerable our local food system is when faced with disruptions, but how important it is for individuals to have gardening knowledge — and access to land to grow their own food. There is power and connectedness in being able to feed ourselves, so much of this knowledge has been centralized and lost to the average person. The solution to these problems lies in the collective community growing spaces so central to the ShiftMeals mission. Let’s learn, problem solve and make decisions together. Let’s nourish ourselves and our neighbors. Let’s build tighter relationships and more resilient communities that have enough strength and resources to be prepared for an increasingly uncertain future.
If you are interested in joining the Collective Community Garden at Bluffside Farm we would love to hear from you. Visit https://shiftmeals.org/join-our-grow-team/ to get involved.
Written by: GrowTeam Manager Samantha LeVine