Cultivating Relationships and Healthy Foods

In Spring 2019, two local organizations — New Directions, Inc., an organization that supports people with developmental disabilities and Woodbury Thrives, a grassroots organization focused on promoting health and well-being of Woodbury residents — forged a partnership to build a community garden in a residential neighborhood in Woodbury. The community garden was built in the yard of a New Directions Inc. residential home, and is designed to be a resource to the home’s residents and the greater community.

Setting the table for community ownership and engagement
Neighbors were invited to participate in gardening through a door-to-door campaign. Community garden events were family-friendly and sometimes featured food to help bring the community together. Simone LaBonté, New Direction Inc.’s liaison for this project, kept volunteers updated about activities through email.

Building and nurturing the garden as a community
In early May, under the guidance of a Master Gardener, over 20 neighborhood volunteers came together and constructed raised garden beds and filled them with dirt. Many neighbors came ready to work with their own tools, such as shovels, wheelbarrows, and rakes. In late May, seedlings were planted and over two evenings in early June, neighbors built a pergola and bench structure for the entrance of the garden. Fridays throughout the summer, neighbors came together to tend the garden, and several neighbors weeded at other times throughout the week, and enjoyed produce from the garden throughout the growing season.

Residents’ experience with the garden
Working in the garden helped many neighbors deepen relationships with one another. One woman fairly new to the neighborhood shared, “It’s been really great because it’s really encouraged us to meet more of our neighbors. And we’ve found other families that have young kids that we’ve been forming relationships with. So it’s been really good.” When asked what the experience was like having people come to the garden hosted at his home, one New Directions Inc. resident said, “[It’s] pretty much just amazing. I’m more that people person that loves meeting people, loves pretty much just [having] a great social interaction.”

The project was also successful in helping volunteers strengthen gardening skills. Because this work was guided by a Master Gardener, volunteers did not need any special skills to contribute to the garden. The Master Gardener orchestrated the volunteers to ensure they were put to good use once they showed up, and many learned gardening skills along the way. A volunteer shared, “I just think it’s wonderful. I think it’s great for kids. I wouldn’t know, honestly, how to plant a vegetable garden. So, I was excited when I got the email because I just wondered if I would learn something and maybe we could take it home and do it with our own children and our own [yard]—we have a really good space that would be good for it, so I just think it’s really sweet.”

Working in the garden has inspired some of the youngest volunteers to taste test the produce they’ve helped to grow. One mother shared that they’ve “had a little bit of lettuce, which was good. My kids are not big vegetable people but I’ve been trying to encourage, so it’s been good for that too, like, ‘We grew this, let’s try it.’ And so they’ve been more willing to try stuff, even if they don’t eat much of it, at least they’re trying more.”

Built to last
All volunteers interviewed shared they would recommend this project to other neighborhoods. The garden was successful in bringing neighbors together for a common goal. One participant shared, “I feel like it just brings people together and if you have more ownership of your community, you’re watching out for each other more, it’s a safer feeling.” Best of all, the garden structure that was built in a day will provide the neighborhood with opportunities to cultivate healthy foods and relationships for years to come.

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