Gardening gives the rest of us a chance to take part in agriculture

NEW HAVEN — In a rural region like Addison County, nearly everyone, even people not involved in agricultural businesses, sees a farm almost every day. Not surprisingly, many people develop an interest in getting their hands in the soil and taking part in agriculture at the level of the home garden.
“More and more people want to be a part of the growing system,” said Daenan Norris, co-owner of Greenhaven Gardens and Nursery in New Haven. “It seems to be following the local foods movement, where individuals are interested in controlling the things they eat and reducing their global footprint.”
Norris and Greenhaven’s nursery manager, Sheila Collette, say that the trend is particularly obvious among young adults.
“Young people are very interested and concerned about where their food comes from, what pesticides are used in their cultivation, and what kinds of fossil fuels are required for their production,” Collette said. The surest way to control all of those factors is to grow the plants yourself.
While it is a wide leap between a “weekend gardener” and a production farmer that relies on sales of plants and livestock for a living, it is easy enough for almost anyone to grow the basics — tomatoes, greens, cucumbers, peppers and herbs, Collette said.
“Setting yourself up as a production farmer means committing to buying a bunch of equipment, doing a huge amount of research and dedicating an immense amount of time and attention into your garden,” she said.
On the other hand, keeping a small garden where you grow basic vegetables to augment those that you buy and to grow flowers to colorfully decorate your yard is fairly simple.
Norris adds that for even for many small-scale farmers it’s not practical to think that they’re going to grow everything they eat.
“Vermont doesn’t have the climate to support that for many people, unless you’re committed to canning and preserving the food from the summer to last throughout the winter,” she said.
Norris, Collette and other members of the staff at Greenhaven Gardens, therefore, spend almost as much time helping and coaching customers on how to select and care for their plants as they do caring for and cultivating the plants in the nursery.
“People come in with all kinds of questions,” Collette said. “They want to know about fertilizer, about watering patterns and they want to know why their plants aren’t growing faster or fuller.”
Greenhaven is among Addison County’s largest full-service nursery and garden centers, offering hundreds of varieties of annuals, perennials, vegetables, herbs, trees and shrubs. It caters mostly to small, backyard gardeners, who just have fun growing the vegetables they eat throughout the summer and fall and the plants and flowers that decorate their property.
In addition to the many unique heirloom as well as classic varieties of plants and vegetables they start each year, Greenhaven also will take orders early in the year from customers who know the varieties they want and start the seeds in the greenhouses until they are ready to transplant into the garden. This relieves the pressure of starting seeds indoors or in temperature-controlled greenhouses and allows gardeners to wait until later in the season to worry about their gardens.
Collette finds herself offering advice about patience and lessons about stages of plant growth and what gardeners can expect throughout the growing season.
“People are afraid they’re not going to do enough to keep their plants alive and they get overly excited at the beginning,” she said. “But after a while a lot of hobby farmers and gardeners get bored and end up neglecting their plants at critical times, like when it gets the hottest mid-summer.”
As with many hobbies, it takes time to get good at gardening and to get used to growth patterns and needs of different plants, Norris said.
Over 23 years in business, Greenhaven Gardens has earned the trust of both new and experienced gardeners.
“While we do cater mostly to hobby gardeners, we also work with expert growers, some of whom sell their produce in markets or farmstands,” Norris said.

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