Community Gardens: A Popular Subject


DESIGNING THE FUTURE
OF PITNEY FARM 

A new nonprofit organization, Pitney Meadows Community Farm, Inc. acquired the 166-acre Pitney Farm on Dec. 15, 2016 with the help of a $1.13 million investment in the project by the City of Saratoga Springs.  

On March 5, 2017, the Pitney Meadows Board of Directors held a Public Forum aimed at getting the community's ideas on how to make the most of the farm. This is the first in a series of articles in which we'll share highlights of the brainstorming that took place that day and the future toward which they're pointing. 


Twenty-three people participated in the community gardens breakout session at the Public Forum hosted by Pitney Meadows on March 5. That was most that any of the ten breakouts attracted. 

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That's not surprising.

"Community gardens are growing all over the country and there are a number on various scales locally," says Natalie Walsh, who co-moderated the session with Margie Ingram. "People have become more and more concerned about their food sources and about sustainable living. They have a desire to grow their own fresh produce and teach their children where their food comes from." 

A lifelong gardener who became enthralled as a child by the fresh fruits and vegetables she discovered in her grandparents' garden, Walsh has taken Cornell Cooperative Extension’s master gardener course and earned an associates degree in plant science from SUNY Cobleskill. She has helped to develop several community gardens, including the children’s program at the Moreau Community Garden. Ingram, co-founder of The Humor Project, also is a master gardener. 

The biggest concern expressed in the discussion was who will oversee the garden and enforce the rules. Another issue that generated much discussion was the size of the plots to be made available to gardeners and whether they will have access to the same plot year after year so they may grow perennials. 

Pitney Meadows has asked Walsh to spearhead the development of the community gardens with a launch later this spring, an impending event that made the discussion in these two 15-minute breakout sessions especially timely. Below are highlights. 


IDEAS GENERATED

  • It was suggested that the best material for building raised beds is black locust for durability.  
  • We’ll need garden rules and a statement about what it means to be a community garden. 
  • We should provide written guidelines and consequences, defining which pesticides and herbicides can be used. These should be posted in several locations, including the garden shed.
  • We should have a meeting of all gardeners to explain what organic means. 
  • We should have an area in which to grow invasive plants. 
  • We should plant a community herb bed.
  • We should invite gardeners to share their expertise. Invite master gardeners to give talks. 

ISSUES AND QUESTIONS RAISED

  • The biggest concern was who will oversee the garden and enforce the rules. Several participants told of other community gardens where rules were disregarded impacting the enjoyment of the garden for others. Who will address issues such as noncompliance, weedy beds, rotting produce, and other violations of the contract such as use of chemicals, abandoned plots? What will the consequences be? 
  • We had a discussion of raised beds versus open areas (10 by 10) planted directly into the soil. About a third of those attending felt raised beds are too small. They wanted permanently assigned beds that they may garden from year to year and plant perennials such as raspberry bushes, and asparagus. 
  • There was a consensus that plot costs should be reasonable and scholarships should be offered as needed.
  • Social Media. We should post all information on Facebook and on a bulletin board located on the shed. Send emails as the primary way to communicate with one another on topics including cooperative vacation watering, problem solving, seed sharing, bulk seed ordering. 
  • Accessibility. Gardens for wheelchair-bound (24 inches high) and gardens for those with limited mobility. (30 inches tall)
  • Fees. Sliding scale preferred. Scholarships possible? Most were comfortable with $30 minimum donation. 
  • Who can participate: Those in the Saratoga region over 18 years of age, summer visitors and college students welcome. 
  • Fence: Will there be one? Who will remove or discourage problem wildlife?  How will we deal with rabbits, woodchucks and deer? 
  • Tools: Most people plan to bring their own small tools and want to have access to larger rakes, etc.
  • Tilling. Who will pay for this? Gardeners? 
  • Experienced gardeners were willing to mentor novices. 
  • Suzanne Balet Haight offered reduced pricing on vegetables plants and to hold a class on vegetable gardening. She also offered to help with the creation of a pollinator garden. 
  • Saratoga Beekeeping asked about having hives at the garden. 
  • Cold frames permitted?
  • Vegetable plant sources. Will participants be willing to take on roles such as teaching, sourcing compost, and mowing? 

PARTICIPANTS

  • Jeff Zepperi
  •  Evy Yergon
  •  Frank Valenti
  •  Suzanne Balet Haight
  •  Jim Favaloro
  •  Ellen Downing, Saratoga Beekeeper
  •  Michelle Reilly
  •  Robin Rozines 
  •  Susan Philbin 
  • Carolyn Shapiro
  •  Skyiyan Weiden
  •  Peter Martin
  •  Alex Wei
  •  Joanne Valenti
  •  Alexandra Morgan
  •  Kemp Hicks
  •  Nancy Hicks
  •  Lisa Woolfe
  •  Susan Knapp
  •  Bodhi O. Duleiff
  •  Susanne Jageda
  •  Jerry Burke
  •  Nedra Stimple