Volunteers planting seeds for Lenox's first community garden

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LENOX — As the dank and dreary days of November close in ahead of a long winter, thoughts of gardening and growing vegetables, plants and herbs may seem a distant dream.

But dedicated and enthusiastic volunteers are laying the groundwork for the town's first community garden, centrally located on a 40-by-70-foot rectangular plot on town property in Lilac Park, behind the Church on the Hill parish house.

The project to create 25 raised 4-by-8 planting beds in time for next year's growing season aims to foster community spirit and goodwill, as well as to provide people with a chance to exercise their green thumbs, said co-founder and organizer Gwen Miller, the Lenox land use director and town planner.

The Community Garden is open by application for residents and people who work in Lenox who would like to tend and be responsible for their own garden bed, she said. Online application forms are available at townoflenox.com on the Land Use page for a $10 registration fee. There are no additional costs, and each membership is renewable annually.

If more than 25 applications are received, a lottery will be held to select members.

"The idea is to open up access to gardening for people who might not otherwise have the space or the knowledge about how to grow their own vegetables," Miller said. "This will connect them with people who do. Everyone's welcome to participate. It's for people from all walks of life, whether you're a longtime resident or if you moved here recently. The goal for this is to have fun."

In other words, no experience required since the community members will be mingling with residents who have gardened for many years.

"We want everyone participating to take part actively and to feel ownership, not just of their plot but of the whole garden," Miller said. "It's not just about growing plants, vegetables, herbs or flowers. It's really about building community."

Seed money for the project was approved by annual town meeting voters last May. The $7,745 Community Preservation Act grant is being augmented by a drive for contributions to support and maintain the effort. So far, $5,200 has been raised, with contributions from Berkshire Health Systems, Kimball Farms Life Care, local banks, Canyon Ranch and individual donors.

"The site is perfect, in the center of town, with water we can tap into and electricity if we need it," said co-organizer Dianne Romeo. "If you've never gardened and you want to try, a community garden is a great place to start, with people around to help you."

"Guest speakers will offer educational programs to give people guidance," added her husband, co-organizer Tom Romeo. "You'd be amazed at the number of people who don't know what to do or what they should grow." An orientation session and followup meetings will get the gardeners going.

The sunny location — weather permitting — is ideal for growing lettuce, tomatoes, string beans, kale, spinach, cabbages, Swiss chard and Brussels sprouts, the Romeos said. Any harvested produce not used by "bed custodians" will be donated to the Lenox Food Pantry at the United Methodist Church.

A storage shed built by seniors in the woodshop class at Lenox Memorial Middle and High School will be installed at the site next spring. A split-rail fence, with lumber provided by New England Fence in Pittsfield, is slated to enclose the area before the growing season begins around May 1.

Lumber and topsoil for each of the 25 raised beds will cost about $300.

Selectman Edward Lane recruited the Romeos, who are are longtime gardeners, to help jump-start the project. Lane had gently pushed the idea for the past several years. He chairs a nine-member board, including several professional gardeners, to guide the project as it takes shape.

"It's a really positive initiative for the town," Tom Romeo said, noting that the Lilac Park area is crowded during the warm-weather season with locals as well as visitors.

"It was surprisingly hard to find a suitable piece of property," Lane said. The town land behind the Church on the Hill chapel was suggested by the Rev. John Nelson.

Lane hopes that additional community gardens will spring up in other neighborhoods such as Lenox Dale and North Lenox.

"This is something people can have fun with, getting outside, working together and socializing," he noted. "It's a feel-good kind of thing."

Clarence Fanto can be contacted at cfanto@yahoo.com, on Twitter @BE_cfanto or at 413-637-2551.


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