A Student Project by Marina Welch – Independent Service Project Gardening at the Homestead

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I have never before gardened, not for lack of desire, but for lack of space! Going to college in Boston isn’t exactly conducive to exploring the art of vegetable growing. Funds to rent a plot at a community garden are also in short supply when sustaining yourself on Ramen Noodles. Not only did I not have the funds and the space, I didn’t know anyone who gardened, or could help me start one. It’s slightly intimidating starting a garden based solely on what can be learned from dry gardening books and short YouTube videos.

However, I decided to jump into gardening for my Independent Service Project (ISP) with AmeriCorps. When I began my term at my site, I was told that the previous member had started a garden for her ISP that the summer camp kids loved to explore. I was then told that it would be very beneficial to have the garden again. So in order to not disappoint future camp goers, I embarked on an extreme adventure. I recruited some fellow AmeriCorps members to help in the endeavor and was joined by Mary Kelsey Trumps, Sydney Kalas, and Katy Lord, who also have never gardened before. Due to the fact that the garden was part of the Burlington Area Community Gardens right at my site, I took the lead on the project.

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In keeping with the spirit of my ISP and the mission of AmeriCorps, all of the materials (compost, plants, seeds) needed to be donated for my 10’ by 10’ plot. As I began writing donation request letters and prepping the beds, the director of my site decided to give me his half plot, which is next to mine. Another 10′ by 10′. Thankfully, Mary Kelsey had recently gotten a position with the Ethan Allen Museum at my site and so was able to be a lot more involved. Instead of feeling overwhelmed with so much space and so little time, we pushed forward and got 2 cubic yards of compost donated and all of the seeds and plants needed.

At the same time, I began a teaching garden class run by the Vermont Community Garden Network in order to try and learn tips that I could transfer to my own plot. However, my group wanted to start right away in preparing the beds and planting, so I had to jump in ahead of the teaching garden class schedule. As classes progressed, I learned whether or not I had done certain things right in my own garden. Sometimes I had and sometimes I learned the hard way that certain plants might not be growing that year due to seed depth or wrong transplanting methods.

Throughout the summer, our group has been weeding and tending the garden. At one point we were also joined for a day by five volunteers from All Script. Along with adult volunteers, for two weeks in July and August, campers with the Winooski Valley Park District’s Sustainable Outdoor Leadership and Education (SOLE) Camp helped us. They learned about where food comes from, proper watering techniques for gardens, what certain weeds look like, and how delicious a fresh tomato tastes.

In full bloom

The learning opportunities for the summer campers were wonderful. However, our largest impact was that all of the food grown was donated to the Chittenden Emergency Food Shelf. As of August 31st, we have donated 273 pounds of fresh vegetables. I personally feel very accomplished having gone from no knowledge of gardening, to donating so much food to a worthy cause through such hard work.

I find myself extremely lucky to have been given such a learning experience. It’s been time consuming, overwhelming, and intimidating, but I have learned more than I ever thought I would. I hope that the two years of WVPD AmeriCorps members using the garden for their ISP continues, as the food donated and the educational opportunities it gives to campers is invaluable.

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