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Sue Bush
More articles from Sue Bush

Weeding Out Generation Gaps

By Susan Bush
12:00AM / Thursday, July 13, 2006

Clarksburg Elementary School fifth-grade students worked at a community garden at the town's Senior Center prior to the school year conclusion. [Photo by Karen Gallese]
Clarksburg - Decades of birthdays separate the hands that planted from the hands that maintain but age differences have not kept a vegetable garden established at the town's Senior Center from flourishing.

Not Afraid Of Dirt

A project of the REACH Community Health Foundation, a "community garden" was seeded by town elementary school fifth-grade students shortly before the conclusion of the 2005-06 school year. The youngsters took the planting responsibilities very seriously, according to a group of senior center members who worked with the students that day.

"They were so excited," said town Selectwoman Lily Kuzia, who serves as the center director. "The kids had a real good time. And they weren't afraid of the dirt, either."

"There were quite a few 'leaders' in the bunch," said Barbara King with a smile. "They seemed happy about doing this."

"They were right down on their hands and knees making the rows," said Shirley Therrien. "They really made me smile. They made my day."

"They Were Nice To Us"


Barbara King examined the garden's progress. [Photo by Susan Bush]
Caleb Robert, 11, and 11-year-old Justin Cameron were among the planting contingent. Both students offered their thoughts on the project during a July 12 interview.

"I had fun doing this and meeting the older people," Caleb said. "They helped us. We had to make the rows and we did it using digging tools. I planted peppers."

"We had to carry all the plants and the tools up [to the garden site] and we made the rows," said Justin. "Then we went into the bushes and a little bit into the woods to get sticks to use for [plant-supporting] stakes."

He is proud of his role in planting the garden and enjoyed collaborating with the senior center members, Justin said.

"They were nice to us and they let us do everything [in the garden]."

The Crop

In addition to peppers, the garden hosts squash, cabbage, peas, cauliflower, carrots, and tomatoes. The students planted marigolds, cosmos, and sunflowers around a nearby rock and during a July 12 visit to the garden, many of the flowers appeared to be growing.

A senior center "work crew" has been caring for the garden since it was planted. Therrien, King, and Kuzia are working in tandem with Jane Cook, Eileen Belanger, Agnes Fosser, Lester Dumoulin, Donald Bunting and Phillip Fosser to contribute time and labor to the garden. So far, the rainy weather hasn't harmed the vegetables, said Cook, who had spent part of the July 12 morning at the site with Belanger.

Grow It, Cook It, Eat It

Harvest time is expected to bring students and seniors together again, said Kuzia, school Principal Karen Gallese, and Sharon Leary, REACH community advocate.

The project is designed to meet fifth-grade curriculum frameworks, said Gallese, who explained that the original student gardeners will be sixth-grade class members at harvest time. Those students are expected to visit the senior center to learn how to cook the garden's bounty. Senior center members are expected to teach the students how to prepare and cook the vegetables.

Students and seniors are expected to share a produce-based "harvest dinner." A dinner will be "cool," said Justin, who also emphasized that he would be pleased to spend more time with the folks at the senior center.

The project offers many benefits, said Leary. Helping create the garden and learning to prepare the produce delivers lessons in good nutrition to the students. Planting and cooking skills are learned as well. And teaming up with the senior center group helps bridge generation gaps, Leary said.

Commitment Required

The project required significant commitment before it could begin.

Before any cultivating could begin, the town's Conservation Commission had to be consulted because of potential wetlands issues. Once the commission members gave the project a green light, the ground had to be readied for seeds and plants, and that was no easy task, according to Phillip Fosser.

Barbara King and Jane Cook weed a garden flower bed. In background are garden volunteers Phillip Fosser and Lester Dumoulin and Clarksburg Elementary School Principal Karen Gallese.[Photo by Susan Bush]


Fosser, Dumoulin and Bunting tackled tilling and other prep work along the rocky soil.

"It wasn't easy, believe me," said Fosser, who chuckled as he recalled the labor-intensive task. "We had to do it [till] four times, twice before the top soil- the loam- was brought in. This should have been a rock garden, there were rocks galore."

The garden plot had to be cleared of weeds and thick brush before ground preparations could launch. Town highway department workers Jeff Goodell and Joseph Tatro "were the best" and completed that work, said Kuzia. Goodell and Tatro also brought topsoil to the site, she said.

Volunteers Wanted

Plans are in place to surround the garden with fencing because deer tracks have been discovered at the garden. Senior center volunteers have observed a good-sized woodchuck around the site and the furry creature may be eyeing the garden's progress in anticipation of a hearty meal.

A group called "Friends of the Senior Center" purchased several lengths of hose so that the garden can be watered if necessary.

Community volunteers would be welcome to assist with the garden, Kuzia said. Weeding and other garden chores can be challenging for the senior center population to handle on a constant basis, she said.

Families of the students who planted the garden might want to help insure the garden's success, she said. Town residents with gardening experience might also want to lend a hand.

Those willing to help with the garden are asked to contact Kuzia at 413-664-6605.

Future gardens will be easier to cultivate because of the work done this year, Kuzia noted.

Community Service Learning

The garden received support from a North Adams Youth Council Community Service Learning grant, Gallese said.

"That's how we bought the topsoil," she said. "This was such a great project. A lot of the kids had never planted a garden before. It was a great experience. We'd like to do this again. The project fits the framework and it is a wonderful project."

If strong interest was shown on the part of students, teachers, and the community, an expansion of the project would be considered, Gallese said.

"You do have to have teachers who will agree to take this on," she said.

More Community Gardens

The REACH foundation's Get Fit initiative is involved with community gardens being cultivated at the North Adams-based Greylock and Brayton Hill complexes in conjunction with Northern Berkshire Neighbors and the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition. Another garden project launched in Cheshire is being overseen by the town's elementary school, Leary said.

A visit to garden sites at the housing complexes found several raised planting beds and large containers with healthy plants; several good-sized, foliage-dense tomato plants boasted a number of blossoms as well as numerous green tomatoes.

Folks considering volunteering at the Clarksburg garden may want to heed the advice of garden "veterans" Caleb and Justin.

"Wear old clothes," advised Caleb. "You will get dirty."

"Wear old clothes and a hat," said Justin. "Remember the sunscreen. It gets hot in the garden."

Susan Bush may be reached via e-mail at suebush@iberkshires.com or at 802-823-9367.
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