Last summer, I wrote an article about a group of Fairfield residents who came together to grow an organic garden for Operation Hope. The idea was hatched by Eleanor Fraser, a petite Scottish woman with a shy smile and a whole lot of ambition. Her mission, should she choose to accept it, was to feed the hungry, one fresh vegetable at a time.
When she pitched the idea to Operation Hope, she said “they loved it.” With her wide-brimmed hat in hand, Fraser went to the town to secure a plot of land in one of their community areas. After more than a little bureaucratic red tape, she was assigned a plot on Warde Terrace.
“She’s been amazing,” said Michelle Stearns, Operation Hope’s Volunteer Coordinator, of last year’s efforts. “It was such a hard time getting a plot. There was all that rain. The garden started late. But she persevered and got it off the ground.”
Eileen Noel, a garden volunteer who is returning this year with her daughter Hanna, agrees that Fraser has been the garden’s foot soldier, fighting for its existence. “I think the community garden concept is such an important thing and I was shocked that no one I have talked to knew about it,” she said. “The more I learn about the way plots are assigned, the more important it seems that the town needs some type of committee to oversee it and run it more efficiently. They might look to neighboring towns to see what works and doesn't.”
As part of the crew that helped her, I can tell you the plot was in pretty bad shape last year. To say it was overgrown would be putting it mildly. An ocean of weeds, stinging nettles, and lots and lots of bugs greeted the crew last June.
Having maintained the garden throughout the summer, the spring clean up wasn’t so bad. Fraser said she set aside four hours assuming it might be necessary. “It really didn’t take as long as I expected,” she said. “It looks pretty good now.”
While the clean up was easier this year, there is a bigger challenge to face: Getting enough donations to make the garden successful again. Last year, there were donations from area nurseries. But because the garden was started late, the plants were all summer crops. This year, Fraser says she’ll need seedlings to start with along with a number of other supporting materials. Deer netting, soil test kits, straw for weed control, and compost are just a few of the things to get a good head start.
“Right now we need good organic compost to add to the beds before we can plant, we also need organic fertilizers, organic bug sprays and everything in between,” she said in a recent e-mail. “That's the hard part, there is so much that we need but no money to get it. But I feel that if people have extra and can donate a half a bag of this or a bottle of that, we can do it.”
Her positive attitude is contagious. So contagious in fact, that many of last year’s volunteers are planning on returning. Amanda Leslie, a college student currently studying in France who is planning on volunteering again, said she is looking forward to the garden this year.
“I definitely like gardening and this is a more proactive way for me to get into it. Doing it myself at home sometimes it feels tedious, boring, and a little lonely. It's more fun doing it with other people and for a more meaningful purpose,” she said.
Noel said she also had a great experience working with other people. “The fact that it's a collaborative effort to get fresh, healthy vegetables into the food pantry is the big draw for me,” said Noel. “But what I discovered last year was the benefit of working as team, being outdoors, and meeting interesting people, young and old.”
Leslie said she will also be working with the Connecticut Audubon Society this summer and had asked Fraser to help out with some of the education courses. Fraser and Leslie are hoping to start a garden at the Audubon as well.
“While I'm a huge proponent for the local food movement and the idea that it is very silly that we buy food we can just grow,” said Leslie, “bridging the connection between homelessness, helping people locally, and malnutrition that is rampant in underserved and impoverished communities definitely comes to mind as to why I am working at the garden.”
So this growing season, if you find yourself with a little extra time, why not stop by the Warde Terrace garden and help out. Or, if you have some extra materials you’d like to donate, contact Operation Hope at (203) 292-5587 and let them know how you can help.