Conversation with Cassidy Metcalf, Sustainable Woodstock’s Garden Coordinator

By Elle O’Casey

We continue our theme of sustainable food practices and local gardening this week with a conversation featuring Cassidy Metcalf, Sustainable Woodstock’s Garden Coordinator. Sustainable Woodstock has three community gardens throughout Woodstock and Pomfret and Cassidy helps manages these plots as the garden coordinator.

What would you say to people interested in getting a plot at one of the community gardens?
Community gardens represent a great opportunity for people who don’t have space in their backyards, for people who want to be a part of a gardening community, or for people relatively new to gardening who want to dig in alongside a group of gardeners who can offer help, education, and other support. We currently have about 20 families using these garden plots, including a group of people who come back year after year to use these plots.

Could you say a little bit more about the ‘community’ aspect of these gardens?

Growing our own food in nearby plots is an avenue for us all to come together. It creates and strengthens social ties, something so important yet often lacking this day in age. Gardening also provides great exercise, relieves stress, and is super fun!
We hold community gardener gatherings each season. Last season, we had a few get-togethers at the Billings Farm plot including a potluck where each gardener brought a dish made from the vegetables she or he grew.

You mentioned ‘education’ as part of the components of the community gardens. What does that include?

One of the unique things about these community gardens is the opportunity to gain wisdom and knowledge from your garden neighbors. Many of them have been farming the same plot for several seasons and have learned a lot over the years. By planting and harvesting beside these folks, newer gardeners have the chance to talk with them, see their techniques, and learn from their experiences. Experienced gardeners have the opportunity to exchange tips and new learnings with one another as well.

We will also have more structured learning experiences through a series of educational events. We are hoping to hold gardening workshops this summer. These workshops will feature various community leaders sharing their knowledge about a particular topic. These topics may include soil science, planting techniques, or what plants go well beside other plants – termed “companion planting.” We will also have field trips to local gardens. These events for the community gardeners as well as for the wider public. We invite all to join and be a part of group helping support sustainable food systems in our towns.

What if I don’t have time to attend a workshop but still want help with problems I’m facing in the garden?

Beyond peer-to-peer learning and educational workshops, I also send emails to the community gardeners with timely resources. These emails include a variety of information like how far to space seeds, what to do about pests, and other issues as they arise. I am always available so if our community gardeners have a problem or a question, they can feel free to ask me and I will figure out a solution to the problem, often going to the garden to help the particular gardener out.

Any final pieces of advice you’d offer people relatively new to gardening?

Just jump in. To have a good garden, you don’t need to study for a long time before planting your first seeds. I’d say that being a part of community garden is a really good way to learn the ropes. When people sign up for a garden plot, we ask them to select the number of years’ experience they have. People can also select, “I’m new to gardening and would like a mentor.” In that case, we will set them up with someone who’s been gardening for a long time.

I’d also recommend new gardeners start small. Don’t try to have a crazy big garden with a ton of seeds to plant. If you’re new to it, carve out one plot and pick your favorite veggies to plant and try to select things that grow well in the climate you’re in.

Interested in joining a community garden? Space is available! Reserve your community garden plot now. Sustainable Woodstock is sponsoring community gardens in three locations this year. Our allotment gardens are open to community members and plots are maintained individually by each gardener. There will be plenty of help and free advice along with special gardener events. To reserve your space or for more information, please call 457-2911 or email. Guidelines and the registration form are available on our website. Reserve early as the gardens have limited space.

Be sure to stop by Sustainable Woodstock’s next Green Drinks event March 16 from 5:00-6:00pm at Worthy Kitchen to hear from Cassidy Metcalf and other Sustainable Woodstock community gardeners. Together, they will talk about the upcoming season and how to participate. Any gardener interested in a garden plot at one of our three local gardens year is welcome to join us for complimentary snacks and good conversation.

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