One of the most exciting gardening innovations I’ve seen in recent years are the "teaching gardens" run by the Vermont Community Garden Network - or VCGN - where new participants learn the A to Z's of basic organic gardening.
I believe they’re actually changing the face of how people grow food in the vibrant network of community and school gardens across the Green Mountains. Their mission is to make sure that every Vermonter has access to enough space and resources to grow their own food in a community setting.
Put simply, VCGN wants a garden in every Vermont town and city in order to tap the power of people growing food together to strengthen food security and build community. They want every child to have access to fresh, healthy food, to know where their food comes from, and learn food production and preparation skills they’ll use their whole lives.
Established in 2001, VCGN offers direct help through technical advice, small grants, free seeds, and encouragement. According to Executive Director Jess Hyman, there are nearly 400 community-based gardens in Vermont where tens of thousands of people grow their own food, learn from each other, and forge new friendships with people all different ages and backgrounds.
For example, at Richford Health Center, kids in the Gardens For Learning summer program tend to “snack bar” gardens planted with favorite veggie snacks like butter-crunch lettuce, carrots, and broccoli that they can pick and eat as much as they like. At the all-volunteer Garden at 485 Elm in Montpelier, new gardeners and experts grow collaboratively for themselves and their families, and donate hundreds of pounds of food to the local food shelf as well. At the VNA Family Room Garden in Burlington, families from all over the world grow food side by side, learning about each other’s cultures and fostering strong connections through gardening, cooking – and eating - together.
Creating and growing strong garden communities - whether in neighborhoods, schools, social service sites, or workplaces - is part of the systemic change necessary to transform our food system in Vermont. And the results can be impressive: neighbors develop friendships and support systems, children try - and like - new foods, people of all ages gain new awareness of environmental issues, and neglected land is returned to productivity.
The Vermont Community Garden Network’s first event of the season is an annual seed swap scheduled to take place on Saturday March 19th at the Fletcher Free Library in Burlington. And I’ll be giving a seed-starting talk - and looking forward to spring.