Community groups come ‘together’ for garden project
Poking their heads through mounds of dirt are the beginnings of an assortment of fresh vegetables.
Cucumbers, lettuce, eggplant, kale, tomatoes, potatoes and squash are among the items planted.
A new community garden, the Garden of Life, is blossoming at Deerefield Farm in New Milford.
The garden is a collaborative effort between Helping Hands for Heros, the Bridgewater Grange No. 153 and the farm, and numerous volunteers from throughout the community.
“It’s different organizations coming together to do good for the people,” said Bridgewater Grange Master Peg Zottola. “And it all started with a question, ‘What can we do to help out?’ ”
Joe Quaranta, who founded Helping Hands, has been able to, through his charity, secure large quantities of food and personal protective equipment for organizations in the community and beyond over the past two months or so.
With the coronavirus pandemic still in full swing, Quaranta said having a community garden such as this will provide ongoing food to local pantries and organizations that serve those in need.
That idea was also something Bridgewater Grange members, in particular, Neil Olshansky, had discussed.
When Quaranta and Zottola were connected via Grange members Aaron Jacques and Pam Butler, the pieces began to fall into place.
The idea “was right up our alley because the grange is all about farmers and agriculture,” Zottola said.
The long-term goal is to have a self-sustaining garden that will serve the needs of the greater community, including New Milford, Bridgewater, Roxbury and Washington.
“Joe realized that his vision of a community garden could come to life, and our vision could too,” Zottola said.
“All these years I’ve thought a community garden would be great in town,” Quaranta said. “I never thought how great until just recently with what’s going on with families in need.”
Since the pandemic hit, there has been an uptick in the number of families served at local food banks.
Head gardener Carla Chagas ,who is in the last phase of becoming of a master gardener, has donated the majority of plants for the project.
She emphasized how the pandemic has struck the pockets of many families and their ability to obtain food as they once did.
“They’re missing a lot of things in the supermarket,” she said, adding she believes children need to be more self-reliant and society needs to think about the way we get food.
“Our food comes from so far away, and we can start growing it here,” she said.
Seeking a place for a garden, Quaranta reached out to local farmers. Dan Weed and Victoria Boyles of Deerefield Farm heeded the call.
“My reaction was definitely when I heard the reason behind it,” Weed said. “There are a lot of people who could use it and we have a fair amount of land.”
Weed said he sees potential for the community garden to “grow” in time.
“We’ll see how it goes,” he said, noting the focus is now on the planting and eventual harvesting of vegetables this season.
Zottola praised Weed and Boyles for their contribution to the project.
“Dan was not only generous enough to give us a plot of land, but also till it for us and make it ready to plant,” she said. “He has been so good.”
The farmers donated about two acres of land for the garden that was planted by a variety of community members.
Volunteers from Helping Hands, the grange, St. Peter’s Masonic Temple and others have participated in workdays at the farm.
“If it weren’t for the tremendous amount of volunteer support, we never could have pulled this off,” Zottola said.
About 5,000 onions, 1,000 tomato plants and 2,500 other vegetables have already been planted at the site, and more keep showing up to be planted, Chagas said.
“A community garden is important,” Chagas said. “Now more than ever to have the space to grow food for our community and teach people to be more self-reliant.”
“It’s a healing opportunity, too,” she added. “In moments when we find ourselves in an alternate reality, like this pandemic, it’s good to find something to be doing so we’re not focusing on the bad.”
Chagas and Zottola both praised the volunteers who have
“One of the beautiful things I saw in the first days of planting was some volunteers came in from town with their children,” Chagas said. “The kids loved doing it and found it very nice to be out and about.”