A Fresh Start for the Spruce Street Community Garden

The Spruce Street Community Garden was a vision of local professional gardener, Bettylou Sandy, who was seeking to create a place of peace and quiet on the busy street in the center of Manchester. The project was brought to fruition in partnership with the Neighborhoods and Families Division at the Eastside Neighborhood Resource Center and with the help of the Manchester Area Sustainability Cooperative (MASC). With these partnerships, five framed raised beds were constructed in 2014. In April of the following year, four more beds were added with the help of LifeSong Church. Community members from across Manchester, but especially those living on or around Spruce Street, have set up small plots within the beds of the garden and have been successfully cultivating fresh produce under the guidance of Bettylou.

Under a Community Development Block Grant, the community garden has recently undergone a renovation involving the leveling of the ground and the installation of 28 new wood-framed beds. “All the beds are deep with very good topsoil and compost. They sturdier and more comfortable to work in. They are solid and have even footing on the ground now,” explained Bettylou. This expansion and renovation of the garden will not only improve the comfort and quality of all the gardening activities, but it will also create a more equitable experience for community members. All the beds are now the same size and every gardener will be able to start fresh with a much-improved gardening experience.

Fresh Start Pallet Products is the Hartford non-profit organization that constructed the framed beds. The organization’s motto is “building furniture, rebuilding lives.”  The non-profit is a “community initiative that creates employment and training opportunities for economically disadvantaged residents by utilizing the wood from discarded shipping pallets to produce attractive sturdy and affordable furniture for home and garden.” The funding for the renovation was provided by a Community Development Block Grant, a program by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that provides annual grants to develop viable urban communities. The planning and construction of the renovations were made possible by collaboration between the Department of Leisure, Family, and Recreation and the Department of Public Works.

This project is another example of how the Department of Public Works supports and contributes to the health and welfare of our community.”

The Manchester Department of Public Works conducted all of the site preparation, including demolition of the old planters, removal of underlying topsoil, and installation of the gravel pad and crushed stone that the new planters will be installed on. The Department’s engineers also assisted with the schematic drawing and layout and will complete the site work once the planters have been constructed onsite, which will include filling them with soil. Installation of additional landscaping will also be completed in the spring by the Department in order to help further define and beautify the space.

“This project is another example of how the Department of Public Works supports and contributes to the health and welfare of our community. Whether it’s a new playscape, athletic field, or supporting ways to make healthy choices, DPW will be there looking for ways to improve the quality of life for all Manchester residents,” said Public Works Director Tim Bockus.

The community garden has already created a lasting impact on locals who have been gardening there for years. It is a special place in the community not only as a resource, but as a social and multicultural spot where people can come to grow their own food, connect with other people, and take time to reflect.

“My dad always had gardens… I kind of learned how to garden through osmosis. I’ve always liked growing. Maybe what I do is a little bit of a tribute to him,” said Paul Ofria, a long-time member of the community garden.

Gardener Aynal Haque described his experience in the garden as “something that can feed [his] soul” and helps him feel connected to his childhood and his father, who was a farmer in Bangladesh.

Another gardener, Dana Rondel Olmstead, also described her positive experience with the community garden. “Once we started developing the community garden, we found so much fulfillment in that experience,” she said.

Community gardens are an excellent way to bring locals together in one place to grow, connect, and reflect. However, the community garden is additionally important for providing food security and an alternative source for fresh produce to the Spruce Street area. In fact, the area in which the garden is located is considered a food dessert, which is defined as an area that has limited access to affordable and nutritious food options (especially fresh fruits and vegetables). With the expansion of the community garden, more residents will have the opportunity to grow fresh produce and thus access to affordable, nutritious food. “The garden is an oasis in an urban area and has succeeded in feeding so many in the neighborhood who have trouble getting to a grocery store because of limited public transportation,” explained Bettylou.

Many gardeners are already getting excited to begin cultivating their plots in the new beds and  expanded space. There has already been a positive response by members who have learned of all the new renovations and improvements to the garden. The solid footing and improved soil quality will not only provide a better gardening experiences, but it will also allow for an improved quality of the food grown. The of the garden also fit in well with the use of Market Field as the new location for the Spruce Street Market, another initiative that provides community members with an alternative source for fresh produce and prepared goods. “I think the new garden fits perfectly next to the new location of the very successful Spruce Street Market,” said Director Tim Bockus.

The new renovations will be fully completed in the spring, when Public Works Field Services install additional landscaping to define the space. “It’s wonderful to have a garden area that is both accessible and equitable for all abilities of gardeners. It’ll be spacious and more beautiful for neighborhood to enjoy. And an even more peaceful place to relax and enjoy the natural world around us,” said Bettylou. Meanwhile, gardeners can attend virtual learnshops from December through February that teach a variety of lessons gardening focused on the winter season and indoor growing. In-person learnshops for the garden will begin in March with a combination of teaching inside the classroom and hands on in the garden. For those interested in volunteering, donating or adopting a plot at the community garden, please contact Bettylou Sandy at (860)647-3089 or [email protected]. For updates on the garden and information on learnshops visit the Town website or the Spruce Street Community Garden Facebook page.


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