Thinking of Summer

By Sally Miller

Gardeners get advice from Master Gardener, Bea Cole (center) at a workshop at the Billings garden last summer.

Gardeners get advice from Master Gardener, Bea Cole (center) at a workshop at the Billings garden last summer.

Last week’s warm weather reminded us that summer will eventually come and that it’s time to pull out the seed catalogues and plan the garden. For those who are not sure where to start, you can join one of the Sustainable Woodstock community gardens.

To help support local food systems, Sustainable Woodstock has several community gardens where area residents can grow their own produce. We began hosting community gardens in 2009 under the guidance of Master Gardener, Anne Dean. This year, Sustainable Woodstock will sponsor community gardens at two sites: Billings Farm in Woodstock and King Farm in West Woodstock. These gardens are used by several dozen families and organizations.

The mission of the gardens is to “foster a community of friendship and cooperation through organic gardening.” Activities include garden talks, community dinners, work days, and sharing of seeds and advice. Some individuals and organizations also donate their surplus food to the local food shelf.

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. Among our families currently using these garden plots, we have a group of folks who come back year after year to use the same plots.

Growing our own food in nearby plots is an avenue to help us come together. It creates and strengthens social ties. Gardening also provides great exercise, relieves stress, and is fun! One of the unique things about our community gardens is the opportunity to gain wisdom and knowledge from garden neighbors. Returning gardeners who have been farming the same plot for several seasons 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 ideas with one another as well.

For the past two years, Cassidy Metcalf has been the garden coordinator and she will continue in that role again this year. She keeps an eye on the garden plots and offers advice and support as needed. She sends emails to the community gardeners with timely resources which include a variety of information like how to space seeds, what to do about pests, and other issues might arise in the gardens. She is also available as a resource, so if our community gardeners have a problem or a question, they can ask Cassidy and she will figure out a solution to the problem, sometimes going to the garden to help the particular gardener out.

Every year we also have some structured learning experiences through a series of educational events. Last year we hosted a workshop by Cat Buxton, Vermont Master Composter and an in-garden session with Master Gardener, Bea Cole who talked about garden design, crop rotation, integrated pest management and attracting pollinators. Following a talk by local seed-saver Sylvia Davatz, owner of Solstice Seeds, we toured her garden in Hartland. These events were planned for our community gardeners but are open to the general public, too. We invite all to join and be a part of group helping support sustainable food systems in our towns.

To have a good garden, you don’t need to study for a long time before planting your first seeds. Being a part of community garden is a 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. So just jump in and join the fun.

If you would like more information on how to get a community garden plot in one of the gardens Sustainable Woodstock manages, email Sally Miller at or call 457-2911. Learn more about these community gardens at

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