Growing Places in Clinton


By Karen Nugent
Correspondent

Posted Jul. 11, 2015 at 12:53 PM
Updated Jul 12, 2015 at 10:37 AM

CLINTON – Candlepins and pitchers of Carling’s Black Label have been replaced with cucumbers and kale, and more. The site of the old Maybarton Gardens bowling alley is now a much different type of garden – for the community.

Sitting smack in the middle of downtown – at 159 High St. between a saloon and a pizza joint – an effort orchestrated among several local groups has transformed a longstanding ugly vacant lot into 21 community garden plots teaming with everything from herbs to tomatoes. There is no charge for the plots, and all were taken shortly after they became available.

“I just wanted to garden,” said Michelle Chartier, as she tended to her green beans and broccoli, which she says is much more tender and sweet than the store-bought variety.

“My mom had a garden, but that was years ago, and I live in an apartment now,” she said.

Ms. Chartier said she found out about the community garden from a flier at a nearby coffee shop, and went for it. After tending her garden daily since midspring, sometimes twice a day when there is little rainfall, she is now harvesting produce to help feed her family.

“I’m happy about it so far. I got my first broccoli last week, a lot of kale, and we use the broccoli leaves too,” she said.

The Maybarton Community Garden was an idea sprouted by Kyle Andrejczyk, Alex Luschen, and Lauren Ducat, college friends with Clinton roots; and grew to include remnants of the Discover Clinton revitalization group and Leominster-based Growing Places Garden Project, a nonprofit community garden organization, which is the fiscal sponsor. Several local businesses and officials joined in.

An initial idea to create a pumpkin patch was scratched because it was deemed too much work for too little results, and not as appealing to motorists and pedestrians on the busy street.

Last winter, after the organizers had soil from the site tested, Mr. Andrejczyk and Mr. Luschen, UMass Amherst graduates who studied agriculture – and had been talking about creating a community garden in town for 10 years – decided to approach Philip M. Duffy, director of Clinton’s community and economic develop office, about using the 6,600-square-foot lot which has been an eyesore for decades. About half of the lot has garden beds on it, but it is expected that the entire site will eventually be part of the project.

“I’m excited to see the site developed. It addresses the blight through a low cost solution and has improved a vital part of downtown Clinton,” Mr. Duffy said.

The Maybarton Gardens Bowladrome, once a popular local hangout, closed in the 1970s and was vacant until it was torn down after its roof collapsed under the weight of snow in 2001. Mr. Duffy and town officials had been trying to find a use for the sitefor years. The property is owned by Jim Donovan of Dedham, who consented to its use as a community garden, according to Mr. Duffy.

A $2,000 federal grant, plus a lot of donations, paid for the construction of raised beds and fresh soil, because the dirt on the lot was too rocky for plants. The town’s public works department connected a water line to the site, which fills a large plastic tank from which gardeners can draw water into watering cans. Several local companies donated other supplies.

Mr. Luschen plans to develop a system to produce good soil for the garden using a technique called “sheet mulching” or layering things like compost, cardboard, and wood chips.

“In every sense of the word, this is a community project,” Mr. Duffy said. “It shows what a great little town Clinton is: You ask for help, and they give it to you.”

Of the 21 plots, most are used in an educational program for low income residents run by Growing Places, which also provided seeds and seedlings (tomatoes, rhubarb, peppers, herbs, cucumbers, squash, collards, onions, lettuces, and flowers, among other crops) for all of the plots.

Six open plots were available, and quickly snapped up by more experienced gardeners. Two others were claimed by the Senior Center, and another by the United Church of Christ, which will donate its bounty to the WHEAT Community Café to help provide meals for the needy. Two of the plots are disabled-accessible. Local Girls Scouts planted a row of flowers in front of the garden fence.

New gardeners are taught everything from watering and weeding to pest control. Janet O’Brien, program manager for Growing Places, meets with them weekly to give advice and answer questions.

“Most of them have never gardened before, or have been unsuccessful, or have no space at home,” she said. “A big part is also to teach them how to be successful at community gardens – in a setting that is unique. Because someone is gardening right beside you, everyone has to navigate things like pest management. If you kill beetle worms, that means your neighbor needs to kill beetle worms, and the person in the next row has to kill beetle worms.”

Sara M. Arnold, while tending to her plot last week and proudly pulling a head of broccoli out of a bag, said she is pleased to be one of the teaching garden students.

“It’s an amazing educational experience in gardening,” she said. “Janet (O’Brien) is an incredible teacher, and the garden folks did such an incredible job getting the space set up.”

Ms. Arnold said while she had some prior experience gardening with her father as a child, she doesn’t remember much of it.

Except for one distinct happy memory: “Tomato plants smell like childhood.”

“I post lots of pictures of my garden plot on Facebook, and he (her father) said I have surpassed him. I had a huge head of broccoli, and he said he never got any broccoli like that. As he used chemical fertilizers and pesticides back in the day, he is amazed at my organic garden,” Ms. Arnold said.

Agreeing with Ms. Chartier about the taste of the broccoli, she proclaimed it “the best broccoli I’ve ever tasted.”

“Everything from the garden has been like that,” Ms. Arnold said.
Mr. Andrejczyk said more than $10,000 was raised for the Maybarton Community Garden this year. He and Nicole Melon, part of the Discover Clinton group, said they would like to add a shed, a shade pavilion and sponsor workshops.

After living in Western Mass where farm-to-table has become part of the scenery, Mr. Andrejczyk said he wants to spread that philosophy.

“It’s a sea change from farm to plate out there. We want to make people think about local gardening, healthy eating, and accessibility. Anyone can do it,” he said.