Medford, MA, a diverse and rapidly-changing town north of Somerville and Cambridge, is into gardening. WAY into gardening. The waitlist for its hugely popular, long-standing, 30-plot community garden is so long and slow-moving that if you were at the end of it right this moment, it could take you 15 years to earn your own plot.
That’s a long time to wait for the delicious tomatoes, tomatillos, strawberries, broccoli, cucumbers, squash and zucchini, eggplants, and other delicious fruits and veggies you could be laying in. It’s also a long time to wait for the healing camaraderie and connectedness that come from digging your hands into the soil alongside friends and neighbors.
Which is why a group of engaged citizens are building Medford a gorgeous, brand-spanking-new, 35-bed community garden: the Winthrop Street Community Garden. So far, 18 plots are finished (see their campaign page to check out those handsome, concrete-block walls), and 17 more are on the way in September. The garden will also feature one giant educational bed, as well as two others that’ll be wheelchair-accessible. A little plot of land to one side of the garden has been set aside and earmarked to become a play area for kids. We’re sold.
Since this new garden won’t be big enough to meet the robust neighborhood demand, the garden’s organizers have developed a point system by which to weigh applicants. You’re likeliest to get bumped to the top of the list and get your own plot if you:
- Don’t have any gardenable space at home
- Live in low-income housing
- Use food stamps
- Live nearby
- Have gotten involved and put in volunteer hours during the garden’s early development
Come the start of the academic year, 20 eager Tufts freshman are set to march in and help finish the remaining 17 plots; these good souls have signed up to volunteer a week of their time in their new community, as a pre-orientation exercise. Hats off to the young folks, and here’s hoping they fall in love with the garden and stay involved through their four years in the area.
ONE GARDENER’S STORY
Brian Duran, physicist by trade, stay-at-home dad by day, is today a driving force behind the project, but might never have come to it if he hadn’t gotten to talking a year ago with another parent in his 3yr old son’s babysitting exchange group – a woman who happened to work for the city on sustainability and transportation issues. When she learned that Duran was interested in gardening, she invited him to come to a fundraising meeting for Winthrop Street Community Garden. The original proposal for the garden had been written in 2012, and plans were heating up, but no build license had been acquired yet.
We love Duran’s story, because he did what some of the best volunteers and engaged citizens do: he stood back, took stock, figured out where he could be most effective, and dove in. Duran wasn’t a pro gardener, but he knew how to organize a team and drive the process, so he did just that. He got everyone motivated to pick a build date, and get moving.
“I helped form a construction committee,” says Duran, “and said ‘let’s get our construction details in order. October 9th, we’re going to build it. We need to get our paperwork ready.’”
The team didn’t wind up earning their state license in time to build on October 9th, but that push was the real catalyst that propelled the group forward to break ground this year. “Beyond all my other work,” says Duran, “I think my biggest contribution to the project was just saying ‘let’s pick a date,’ and even if we don’t hit that date the fact that we’re moving towards one will have the effect of making a road block that feels really big be achievable.”
What a great lesson for us all. And what a great recipe for success: Stand back, take stock, figure out where your skillset can be best used, and dive in.
If the Friends of Medford Community Garden’s work inspires you to take action in YOUR neighborhood, or if you have awesome ideas about how to make your town greener, safer, and more fun, let us help! Tell us your awesome idea right here. We’d love to help you get started today.
Pssst…. In OTHER ioby news: The Gowanus Canal Conservancy’s campaign for a new truck is now fully FUNDED! Read about all the amazing work they do in schlepping, planting, composting, educating and more!