MANCHESTER, NH — Manchester community gardeners met recently for an evening potluck and planning session at the garden behind Manchester Community College (MCC). Dozens of adults chatted, children ran and played, and volunteer Ken LeQuire fired up the grill, while Mary Tebo of the UNH Cooperative Extension started the small group conversations aimed at building connections and cooperation to tackle the many tasks needed to improve the gardens.
COMMUNITY GARDEN SLIDESHOW BELOW
Nestled into south-facing woods, the large garden is divided into individual plots that the gardeners fence, plant, and equip. Scattered picnic tables and a shaded group seating area (constructed by the welding students from the community college) provide places to rest, eat, and talk. There is an orchard. A nature trail in the woods is a magnet for children. Water hoses connect to the closest college building. Honey bee hives nestle in a garden corner.
Vickie Houston proudly showed her garden, densely planted for the season. Bob Dambach and his mother, Mary Dambach, strolled in the early evening shade. Refija Mihinovic squeezed in brief moment to talk, between chasing her 2-year-old, Imran, who darted between the parked vehicles and the children playing in the field beyond. Ken LeQuire pointed out the area designated for outdoor cooking, which he has started to build. He built the raised beds for the garden.
“We started the gardens for people who don’t have place to grow their own food. Obviously, there’s a need. With the local food movement, people want organic, healthy food. In Manchester, there are lots of refugees with farming and agricultural backgrounds,” Tebo said. “This way, they can get back in touch with the land and grow their own food. It’s not just an individual plot; it builds community. People who would never have connected, become like family. The relationships that develop go beyond healthy food.”
New garden on Spruce Street has available plots now
Hollows Community Garden and Learning Center, at 401 Spruce St., between Hall and Massabesic streets, opened in May and has free plots available for gardeners in the heart of the city. Start soon to take advantage of the growing season. For information call Julie at Families in Transition at (603) 641-9441.
Other gardens locations:
- Pine Street across from Valley Cemetery, created in 1997
- Dartmouth-Hitchcock Manchester, created in 2012
- Manchester Community College, created in 2012
- Parkside Middle School, approved but not yet built
Rooting for Families Community Garden Collaborative manages city gardens
The Manchester community gardens are a grassroots effort by the Rooting for Families Community Garden Collaborative (no website) to provide a greener, healthier environment for Manchester’s inner-city residents. All the money is from grassroots efforts, donations and grants, with no public funding.
The collaborators are:
- UNH Cooperative Extension
- NH Division of Forests and Lands
- Families in Transition
- The Way Home
- Manchester Community College
- Manchester Parks & Recreation
- Manchester Health Department
- NeighborWorks Southern NH
- Dartmouth-Hitchcock Manchester
- Natural Resources Stewards
- NH permaculture community volunteers (no website)
Turning vacant lots into welcoming green spaces
Tebo, a natural resources field specialist with UNH Cooperative Extension, was instrumental in creating the Rooting for Families Community Garden Collaborative.
“It began in 1997 with Ron Johnson, former Deputy Director of the Manchester Parks and Recreation Department,” she says. “Ron and I drove around the city looking at vacant lots where we could create more functional green spaces for residents. We were able to renovate a small section of Sheridan Emmett Park on Pine Street, and working with many partners, created Manchester’s first community garden. The collaboration of partners and gardens continued to grow over time.”
One challenge of gardening in a city environment is that many low-income residents don’t have transportation. “We’re constantly looking for creative ways to bring gardens closer to people with limited transportation, either by expanding existing gardens or finding new sites on bus routes,” says Tebo.
Volunteers play a critical role in preparing the garden sites and constructing the beds. In addition to the gardeners themselves, various groups have also volunteered their assistance. These include students from both Manchester and Great Bay Community Colleges, UNH Cooperative Extension volunteers, as well as local companies.
“This garden is like one big family,” says Hava Causevic. “When you’re here, you’re outside, you’re with people, you’re doing something. You feel happy.” An expert gardener, Causevic is always willing to share her knowledge of planting and seed saving with newcomers at the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Manchester garden.”
Causevic, who is from Bosnia, described working with gardeners from many different cultures. “We have Asian, African American and Ukrainian people who come to the garden,” she says. “We don’t always speak the same language, so I show them how to plant, when to pick, whatever they need to know. When you see how to do something, you understand. We have people from all over the world and we learn from each other.”
“We have gardeners who grew up in small towns and missed producing their own food. We also have people who never grew anything before in their lives,” says Izet Hamidovic, a volunteer and garden coordinator at the Pine Street and Dartmouth-Hitchcock sites.
The gardens are more than sources of fresh healthy food and camaraderie, they are also therapeutic. Many of the Pine Street gardeners are Bosnian refugees who lost someone during the war.
“They go to the garden to sit and share similar experiences. They all say, ‘I can’t wait ‘til spring to go there,’” says Hamidovic. He spoke from his own experience as a cancer survivor. “When they told me I wasn’t going to make it, I went to the garden. It helped me through that bad time. And look, I’m still here.”
Causevic was disabled after an accident in 2007. “The garden saved me,” she says. “When I couldn’t work, it was something I could still do. It was a reason to get outside and see people.”
LaQuire, who grew up on a farm in New Hampshire, is a disabled veteran with 17 years of service. In 2014, he volunteered to build raised beds for the MCC garden and is now the site coordinator and oversees construction projects for all of the gardens. He spends between 600 and 700 hours in the MCC garden each summer. “When I had to stop working due to nerve damage, working in the garden gave me something to do. It keeps me going,” he says.
Permaculture is built into the designs
The garden at MCC was the first to use permaculture design, mimicking ecosystems in taking care of the soil, wildlife, and water.
“We keep the soils covered with plants that help build soil. There are plants for pollinators, and they provide food for birds and people. Gardeners learn from the UNH Cooperative Extension and permaculture volunteers. Within the design there is an orchard spiral that includes layering of edible plants beneath the fruit trees. The bayberry shrubs and strawberry groundcover are native plants that not only provide for people and pollinators but also fix nitrogen in the soil making it available for the trees, slow and filter water while protecting and building soil,” says Tebo. “This is an example of how permaculture stacks functions and supports all forms of life. A permaculture practice used in the gardens includes building soil through ‘sheet mulching,’ using onsite compost such as grass clippings and leaves, blanketed with leftover cardboard, and then covered with a layer woodchips from local trees.”