Good things growing in community spaces

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NORTH ADAMS >> Tomatoes, beans and spinach are among the many vegetables growing at the River Street Community Garden.

But the community effort required to nurture the garden throughout the growing season cultivates much more than produce, said Elaine Mattern, a member of the UNO Neighborhood Garden Club.

Mattern was among a number of volunteers on Tuesday who helped assemble a fourth raised bed and fill the rectangular-shaped form.

A persistent rain fell as volunteers installed the bed, with the help of North Adams Public Schools Camp Optimism instructor Keith Davis and camper Maria Girard, as well as garden club volunteers Dylan Milette and Lynne Davine. Growing Healthy Garden Program manager Jennifer Munoz also lent a hand.

"I've been part of it from the beginning," Mattern said. "There's more interest each year and there's excitement on the part of the youngsters. They feel like they own a bit of this because they help."

Camp Optimism is held at the Colegrove Park Elementary School and the new bed construction marks the first time younger students have helped with the garden, she added. Drury High School students assisted with the previous installations.

"We're happy to have (younger students ) joining with us here," she said.

Maria, 12, a Greylock Elementary School student, braved the rain to be part of the project.

"I love it," she said. "My favorite part is helping out and giving back to people. The community garden is really nice and helps people get together."

"I like what they grow and I really like being able to help out with it," said Dylan, 13.

Davis said the students used math to figure out the best way to build the bed and learned about the concept of food insecurity — when people worry about not having enough food to eat or feed their families. The new bed is made of Trex, a brand of recycled plastic, he added.

"So all those things that get thrown out can be used to make Trex and Trex was used to make this," he said.

The garden has been in place for five years during the summer growing seasons. All the produce is grown organically. Situated directly across the street from The Porches inn, the garden was created through a collaboration of the Hoosic River Revival project, the city public schools, the garden initiative, the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition, neighborhood volunteers and private donors.

The neighborhood group gathers on Saturday mornings to check on the garden and harvest produce. The produce is free to those who help with gardening, Munoz said. So far this year, neighborhood folks have gathered peas, lettuce, kale, collards and herbs.

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"We've had our first cucumbers, eggplant and radishes," she said.

Until recent rains arrived, hot, dry weather meant hauling water to the garden. Munoz tackled the chore during the week and neighborhood volunteers also brought water during the Saturday sessions. The teamwork paid off; the beds are filled with colorful growing foods. Flourishing leafy greens catch the eye of many Porches guests, said Mattern.

"The visitors come over on Saturday mornings sometimes and they will help," she said. "Or they ask questions about how to do community gardens, and they talk with us. They seem to like the idea."

Munoz noted that greenhouses at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts campus are used to grow seedlings prior to seasonal planting weather and interested MCLA students help with the seedlings.

"I really want to give a shout out to them because their support is very, very important," she said.

At season's end, usually as September comes to a close, the UNO group celebrates the year with a pizza party, as Munoz bakes cheese pizza in a wood-fired oven.

"It's a fun, fun day," Mattern said.

This year, a special addition should bring more community spirit to the party, Munoz said. The river revival group plans to provide a sketch-style picture on canvas and erected at the park for the UNO neighborhood folks to paint. The completed picture will depict the look of the river after planned improvements are finished, she said.

"We are going to bring more games this year, too, and make it more of a small festival for the UNO neighborhood residents," Munoz said.

The summertime garden adds to the neighborhood and social experiences, Davine said.

"I have been gardening for years and I love working like this with the neighbors," she said. "There's always something new to learn."

Community gardens are also growing at the city public library, the Adams Youth Center, Tunnel Brook townhouses, Mohawk Forest apartment complex, Brayton Hill apartment complex, Greylock Valley, Sperry Avenue and the Berkshire Food Project site.

Camp Optimism operated from the last week of June through July. Erica Manville, after-school program and community outreach coordinator at Colegrove Park school, said about 50 students from the city's three elementary schools participated with team-building activities, projects, classes including art, engineering, math enrichment, science, literacy and team competitions. Afternoon trips completed the camp roster.

"We are excited that there are community things happening here in our city," Munoz said.


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