Board of Ed Approval
We received approval from the Board of Education in March to use this space as a community garden. We have tried to be good neighbors. Early on, I contacted the President of the Pine Orchard Association to see if there were any concerns about a community garden in Pine Orchard. I was told that we were doing a great thing and that the association wished us luck and offered to assist if possible.
We had an initial walk-around on the property on March 24 with the director of the daycare center, Beryl Meiner, to hear any concerns and to try to address them. The boundaries of the current garden are the same boundaries that she said were acceptable on that day. She expressed concern about potential disturbance of the butterfly and hummingbird gardens and wanted to make sure that liability issues were clarified. We stated an interest in allowing the day care children and teachers to visit the vegetable gardens occasionally as a learning experience, and Beryl seemed to think it was a good idea. We stated that we would be putting up a deer fence and she agreed that it was essential since deer and other animals have been a problem for the day care center’s gardens.
We invited Beryl to our next directors’ meeting on April 5. Both she and her husband attended and we discussed the above stated issues, as well as concerns about blocking sunlight to the sundial. She also wanted to ensure that there was a no-smoking policy in the garden and a policy that people remove any trash brought in. At that time, Beryl stated that she was satisfied and that her concerns were addressed.
Preparation of the site
The plots in the garden are all leased and the gardeners have been working hard for the past month or so to get their soil ready. We have amended the soil with compost and organic fertilizers. Criscuolo Engineering and the Public Works Department staked out the site, dug a trench and the postholes. The cedar fence posts were donated by the Branford Land Trust, and deer fencing with a sunken chicken wire boundary at the bottom have been installed by our volunteers, as have two gates. This all has happened in record time because of the enthusiasm and support the garden received from the larger Branford community.
Based on the Board of Education granting us permission to create a community garden, the gardeners bought plants, mulch, fertilizer, compost and gardening stakes in preparation for planting. They have been barred from the garden during school hours for the past week and it is creating a great difficulty for the maintenance of their garden plots.
BCG is a part of the Branford community
The Early Learning Center wants to prohibit gardeners from the garden from 7:30 AM to 5:30 PM on weekdays. We believe that the gardeners are being held to a higher standard than all other people who use the open space areas next to the school, including the many people (both Branford residents, and those from further afield) who walk their dogs there, birdwatchers, hikers and bikers along the Shoreline Greenway Trail, many of whom access the trail through the property and some of whom park in the parking lot. The space has been used for many years as a nature garden, with no restrictions on public access. Members of the Branford Garden Club were responsible at one time for weeding the flowerbeds in the space, and did so during school hours. Several of those same garden club members are now, as community vegetable gardeners, being restricted from the space during that same time. There is a National Wildlife Federation sign at the entrance to the area inviting the “entire community” to enjoy the space. To my knowledge, people who currently use this area in a responsible way are not held in suspicion and not subject to any undue scrutiny, as long as they are not acting suspiciously. This courtesy is not currently being extended to the gardeners.
All of our gardeners are Branford residents, they are registered with me, including names, addresses, telephone numbers and email addresses. I would venture to say that you know some of them. Included in our ranks are a Yale dean and his family, a Yale scientist and his family, a former Killingworth Selectman, a retired CT probation officer, a local, well-known artist, the head of an IT dept at YNHH, a journalist for a local newspaper, a paramedic, a former PTA president, and a musician. These people are your neighbors. We have moms who drop their kids off at day care and spend the morning in the gardens, we have retired couples that want to work their plots during the day, and we have people who work on weekends and need to tend their gardens during the weekdays. We have senior citizens who frankly run out of gas as the day proceeds and need to work their gardens in the morning. The proposed restrictions would be non-workable for them and they are rightly angry. For these reasons, it is essential that the garden be available to gardeners when it is convenient for them to garden, as this open space is for all other users.
Branford Community Gardens provides a service to the community by leasing garden plots to Branford citizens, from young families to seniors. Garden members maintain the 20’ x 20’ plot, which we recently started planting, the produce from which will be donated to families in need in Branford.
The day care center also provides a valuable service to the community and receives a substantial benefit from the Board of Education for the use of the school. The gardeners are Branford taxpayers, who subsidize the day care center with their taxes, and yet they are being targeted for suspicion and discrimination. An inexplicable fact is that as members of the public, the gardeners are free to use the open space adjacent to the school, un-questioned, but as soon as they walk into the vegetable gardens they somehow become unwelcome.
The overwhelming sentiment in Branford to the community gardens has been positive. We have recently been awarded an “Official Citation” by the General Assembly of Connecticut for our work, initiated by Connecticut Representatives Lonnie Reed and Patricia Widlitz, and Senator Ed Meyer. C, L & P has honored us with a grant for our community service, and local businesses have donated materials and effort to our cause.
I would like to conclude by stating my belief that our presence in the vegetable gardens, rather than creating a risk, actually enhances the safety of the children and would tend to deter those with evil intent from hanging around the school. Additionally, the gardens can be a learning experience for the children. Malaine Trecoske, our secretary/treasurer, is working with Walsh Intermediate students to teach them the joys of gardening. We would still like the children and teachers here to be able to take a tour of our gardens when the plants are further developed, and at harvest time.
Gardeners, officers and directors are asking not to be discriminated against by the imposition of time restrictions for gardening, and to allow us to share in the use of this space with the rest of the community.