Community gardeners cultivate new home

MIDDLEBURY — After a year’s hiatus, the Middlebury Area Community Garden has finally found a new home at Porter Medical Center.
A shake-up last spring at Otter Creek Brewing left the garden homeless — since its founding in the spring of 2009, it had been based on the brewery’s property. It was April when the garden’s steering committee discovered that the space would be unavailable, and by then it was too late to find and prepare another location before the growing season.
Recreating the garden has been a true community effort: Laura Brace, a master gardener and head of nutritional services at Porter, threw her energy into bringing the project about, as did Ron Hallman, head of public relations at the hospital. Tom Bodette’s Landscaping tilled the site, and the garden received donation seeds from High Mowing Organic Seeds and seedlings from a local grower.
Members of the garden’s steering committee have been talking with Porter employees about hosting the garden there since last spring, said Colleen Converse, one of the garden coordinators. And though the garden got off to a late start this season, Converse said that’s been a function of the late spring — Bodette was unable to till the site until the ground dried out earlier this month.
And though tomato, pepper and squash plants are beginning to overtake the garden plots, a number of people who signed up for plots sought other options while waiting for the ground to dry out.
Consequently, Calkins and Converse are looking for a few more people to fill up the garden plots.
Of the 16 plots, which are set on the lawn across from the new Middlebury Volunteer Ambulance Association headquarters, eight are set aside for Porter employees, including Hallman and his family. Hallman said that agreeing to host the community garden made a lot of sense for the hospital, which, thanks to Brace, has been developing its emphasis on fresh and local foods.
“We felt like this would be a really great thing for Porter to do,” said Hallman. “We are the community’s hospital, and it’s a nice fit with our role in the community.”
Calkins said one of the main goals of the garden is to offer the space and resources to those in the community who don’t have the opportunity to garden.
“One of the misconceptions that people have is that in Vermont everyone has space for a garden,” said Calkins. “But there are a lot of people who live in apartments and don’t have access.”
And, she added, there are those who live in the woods or in particularly shady neighborhoods who may not be able to garden well at home.
To cement its role as a nutritional resource in the community, the garden has also begun to receive referrals from the state’s WIC program, which provides low-income mothers with nutritional resources for themselves and their children.
All community garden members can also get gardening advice from the master gardeners and Calkins and Converse on garden workdays, which Calkins said will happen throughout the summer.
If all goes well, expansion may be on the horizon for the garden.
Helping Overcome Poverty’s Effects (HOPE) has agreed to serve as the umbrella organization for the garden, allowing it to receive and administer grants with the nonprofit status. Last winter the garden received a $1,500 grant from the New England Grassroots Environmental Fund for supplies to reestablish the garden and to fund exploration of new garden sites.
Calkins said she’ll be exploring other locations across town this summer for adding garden plots, including a possible project at Middlebury Union High School, where students in the alternative education program could be involved.
The garden’s steering committee is also looking to fill empty spots that have opened up over the past year. The committee is hoping to continue growing access to garden space and resources to as many people as possible, and to promote a healthy community.
And this, said Hallman, is the very reason that Porter signed on to host the garden.
“Health care is more than taking care of people when they’re sick,” he said. “It’s also healthy food and exercise, and the community garden embodies those philosophies.
For more information about the garden, head to
Reporter Andrea Suozzo is at [email protected].

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