The community garden across from Our Place in Bellows Falls. (Zachary P. Stephens/Brattleboro Reformer)
The community garden across from Our Place in Bellows Falls. (Zachary P. Stephens/Brattleboro Reformer)
Friday September 21, 2012

BELLOWS FALLS -- The Greater Falls Community Garden Collaborative wants you to enjoy locally grown food.

And it's attempting to make that an easier task.

The collaborative, which started in November 2011, has devised a three-year strategic plan in the hopes of hiring a paid part-time coordinator, set up community workshops, maintain existing community gardens and try to develop new ones, among other goals. Its efforts are aimed at reaching the collaborative's mission of being "a community in southeastern Vermont that contributes to the local food system through collaborative gardening efforts resulting in the growing of civic pride, the local economy, and a sustainable environment."

Kari Gypson, the GFCGC coordinator, said the plan outlines what the collaborative ambitiously hopes to accomplish over the next few years.

"We're making great strides," she said on Wednesday.

She said one large part of the plan is to develop workshops over the winter that can educate people on how to start, tend to and harvest their own gardens and then preserve their food and cook it.

"There are a lot of ways food can be grown and what you can do with it," she said. "You can teach people to grow collards but if you don't teach them what to do with them, it's kind of a waste."

Tim Stevenson is a community organizer and founding director of Post Oil Solutions, a nonprofit in Brattleboro dedicated to building sustainable communities. He's been a core member of GFCGC and said the collaborative's plan fits in perfectly with Post Oil Solutions' work and is a logical extension of it.

He said it is important to teach people in the United States and around the world how to become self-sufficient and sustainable. Stevenson said the food crisis of 2008 and the increasing food prices caused by a heat wave and drought this summer makes it all the more vital.

"We as a people in southeastern Vermont need to think about how we are going to feed ourselves," he said. "An agricultural economy will eventually become necessary."

Current gardens include those at Bellows Falls Central, Middle and High schools, the Compass School, Our Place Drop-In Center, and Bellows Falls Community Garden at the recreation center, with projects under way in Saxtons River and Athens.

Gypson, who has been with the Bellows Falls Community Garden for six years, said the garden was started in 1995 and doubled in size to 25 plots this year. She said individual gardeners wanted larger plots and more people now have access to the community garden.

She has submitted grant requests to Ben & Jerry's, Clean Air-Cool Planet and the New England Grassroots Environmental Fund in an effort to get enough money to make her a paid part-time coordinator. The collaborative is operated solely by volunteers right now.

She said she believes the stipend would be between $15,000 and $20,000 per year.

Gary Fox, executive director of the Green Island Project in Bellows Falls, said the collaborative grew out of the Greater Falls Great Food Community Conversations, which consists of hosted dinners once a month throughout the region.

He said how the community feeds itself always proved to be a popular topic during conversations. He said a launch committee was started and people interested in the project were identified.

Fox said the collaborative plans to host a film showing at 33 Bridge Street (where the WOOL radio station is located) on the third Thursday of every month from October to December. He believes the first movie shown will be "Fresh," a documentary about farmers in America.

The three-year plan also includes presentations to interested civic, business, religions and fraternal organizations in an effort to spread the word about the project, as well as encouraging town merchants to place a container garden in front of their place of business.

Tim Cullenen, the municipal manager for the town of Rockingham and village of Bellows Falls, said he assists the collaborative in terms of determining what the town or village can do to help.

"We want to continue to help upgrade the gardens that are here and assist with developing new ones," he said.