Ashland residents plotting community garden
By David Riley/Daily News staff
The MetroWest Daily News
Posted Mar 02, 2009 @ 10:19 PM
Last update Mar 03, 2009 @ 10:25 AM

ASHLAND — Reasons to think twice about how food makes it to the dinner table are growing as long as a grocery list.

Tainted peanuts made it into snacks that sickened hundreds nationwide. Food prices are rising as family budgets shrink. And if it costs a quarter-tank of gas to commute to work, just imagine how many resources it takes to raise food on a massive scale and transport it to a local supermarket.

In Ashland, a group of residents from a cross-section of local causes sees establishing a community garden, where residents could rent plots and grow their own food, as part of the solution.

A panel forum is slated for Saturday, March 14, from 2 to 4 p.m. at the Ashland Public Library to offer "advice and inspiration" for getting a community garden up and running, organizers said.

"It would demonstrate the joys and importance of growing and eating locally, the importance of sustainability, the wonders of getting your hands dirty and growing your own food," said Beth Rosenblum, a member of the Open Space Committee and the We Love Ashland group.

The reasons don't have to be lofty.

For Janet Platt, an Ashland resident who has experience with running three other community gardens, it comes down in part to the fresh tomatoes she gets from her vegetable patch.

"They don't taste the same at the store," said Platt, one of four panelists expected at the forum.

The idea for a garden began with We Love Ashland, said Cynthia Whitty, a member. The group formed last fall to showcase what Ashland has to offer and build new community ties, and members see a community garden as one way to bring neighbors together.

The group also has some interest in eventually providing food for people in need, she said.

"We have some big plans, big ideas," Whitty said. "We'd like to shoot for that - garden plots for people - as an educational and demonstration center."

Also interested are the Friends of the Ashland Library, Open Space Committee members and the Ashland Garden Club.

"The time, the economics, makes me feel that it's the right time for a community garden," said Florence Seidell, a Garden Club member.

Next week's speakers will show the idea has worked elsewhere. Platt is co-leader of the Osgood Community Garden, previously ran the Somerville Community Garden and helps run another at Boston Day & Evening Academy.

Other panelists include John Mitchell, who farms Heirloom Harvest, a 20-acre certified-organic, community-supported farm in Westborough. Joyce Greenleaf, coordinator of the Southborough Community Garden, and Laurie Bourdon, Southborough Stewardship committee member and president of the Breakneck Hill Cow Fund, also plan to speak.

Leslie Githens, an Ashland resident, will moderate the forum.

The idea once worked in Ashland, too, Whitty said. Resident Bob Jorgensen told organizers the town had a community garden about 20 years ago, she said.

Organizers are starting to look for potential plots that could be loaned or rented for a garden, including Glean Maura Farm on Olive Street, whose owners have expressed interest in selling to the town, Whitty said.

Another option could be approaching the town about school grounds that are already mowed and maintained, but aren't used for playing fields or other uses, she said. Platt said a location residents already visit would be ideal, such as next to a sports field.

At other gardens where she has worked, it was about more than vegetables.

"It wasn't just a garden," Platt said. "It was a community space. I think you can have both."

The key is hoping big, but starting small, she said.

"I think if the plots are small, that's good, because I think you can grow a lot of food on a small piece of land," Platt said. "I would rather see more people have small plots than a few people have very large plots."