Gardening for Good program continues into second year, deepens relationships | Community Spirit
Now in its second year, Gardening for Good has not only helped people with developmental disabilities share their stories and learn about gardening but has grown into a community on Madison’s north side.
About 30 people gather from 6 to 7:30 p.m. each Thursday to water, weed and harvest 800 square feet in Troy Community Gardens. The events also feature half-hour workshops, on topics ranging from storytelling to bouquet making.
Rebecca Starke, program facilitator, said she originally thought the city might try to replicate the project at other community gardens after the program’s first year.
“Instead, after talking, we thought, let’s see if we can go deeper,” Starke said. “So, we’re really looking at how we connect, not just to gardens, but being able to take the relationships here beyond what we’re doing Thursday nights.”
She also said the garden has expanded from one plot to two this year. Within those plots, the gardeners grow flowers and vegetables including broccoli, peas, onions, squash and cucumbers.
“I like the cucumbers,” said Andy B., a member for the past two years. He helped plant them near the end of May, and garden volunteers harvested 10 on Thursday.
He said he also enjoys talking with community members and playing with the dogs neighbors bring to the gardens during the event. His favorite part of the work, however, is “getting dirty.”
Rick Lewis, another member for the past two years, said he likes working with flowers and others who attend the event. Lewis said he has worked with gardens “all his life,” at local gardening stores, his own home and flower shows.
“I like roses, vegetables -- I don’t eat them plain -- I like everything,” Lewis said. “Flowers, trees, everything.”
Kenna Hairgrove works with Starke at Community Work Services, an organization centered on providing job training, placement and support services for disadvantaged adults. She became interested in the project after she attended last year’s Harvest Fest, a festival with drumming and storytelling to celebrate the season.
Besides the gardening, Hairgrove said she enjoys meeting new people who attend the event and hearing their different stories.
“I know some faces, but most of them are new,” Hairgrove said. “It’s fun getting to know the community and see where interests lie and what everyone contributes because everyone contributes something.”
Sarah Bleecker and Kate Kruger, who are roommates, have participated in the program for two years. According to Bleecker, participants made “sun catchers,” which now hang in their apartment, by gluing pieces of glass to a string at a previous workshop.
The two shared stories about neighbors bringing horses to a previous Garden for Good event. At other events, they participated in a garden parade and gave out awards to other community gardens. Once, a thunderstorm caught them as they gardened.
“It was the first day and it started to rain, and we were trying to get to the car and we were driving in the car and it was pouring rain,” Bleecker said. “That was kind of crazy. We were all here and then, all of a sudden, here comes a big storm!”
Laura Well said working in the garden brings back memories of her childhood when she lived in the country and would watch farmers working out in the fields.
“Sometimes we write stories or tell our stories, and later Rebecca puts them in the blog,” Well said.
Her mother, Martha Well, said that they first heard about the program last year when Starke approached agencies and individuals in search of special needs adults interested in working with gardeners.
She said the garden offers a place for renewal.
“When I get up and walk around I can feel the happiness in the garden -- it just feels happy,” Martha Well said. “If you’re in a happy state, it brings that out. But if you’re in a sad state, it also brings quietness where you can regain your equilibrium and come back to a happy state.”
Last year, Starke compiled the stories shared on the program’s blog into a book. She made copies of it which she distributed to members.
Starke said the program is currently working to use these stories to build a stronger relationship with the community. While the relationships take time, Starke said she has noticed a few differences.
“I’m seeing people meeting at the grocery store and then they start talking about gardening,” Starke said. “It’s not just this isolated thing and then you go and forget about it.”
Last winter, the program held a winter gathering, which Starke said was a reunion that went back to the summer for an afternoon. She said the event helped highlight the biggest difference between this year and last year -- a focus on having the friendships not just be in the garden.
Find the Gardening for Good blog at http://gardeningforgoodmadison.com.