Help Yourself: Edible gardens blossoming around Northampton
By REBECCA EVERETT
Saturday, May 31, 2014
(Published in print: Saturday, May 31, 2014)
NORTHAMPTON — In cities, people are usually told to stay out of garden plots — but two new gardens in Northampton at Forbes Library on West Street and the Hampshire County Courthouse on Main Street are open for the picking.
Passersby are invited to wander into the gardens, where they can pick herbs, berries and fruit to their hearts’ content.
In the last week, Help Yourself! volunteers reclaimed sections of lawn at the two downtown buildings to create edible gardens. Help Yourself! is a two-year-old nonprofit that plants and maintains edible plantings around the Pioneer Valley for anyone to pick and eat.
Jessica Tanner, 41, of Northampton, said the idea is a novel one and people often need a little encouragement before they will consider picking from the community gardens.
Whenever she weeds raised beds along the Nagle Walkway, for example, people are curious about who owns the garden. “I emphasize that anyone can stop and pick,” Tanner said. “They do a kind of double-take at first.”
On Friday morning, eight people wearing gardening gloves and wielding trowels dug up the soil and applied compost to a small area between Forbes Library and its parking lot in preparation for planting strawberries, lettuce, spinach, nasturtium, chives, and ferns.
The gardeners were Help Yourself! and Valley Time Trade volunteers and the compost, plants, and mulch were mostly donated by local businesses and individuals, Tanner said.
Tanner said that while many people are still unaware of the urban edibles movement, the public plantings are becoming “the hot new project.”
“It’s a new idea, but I think it’s catching on. Cities around the U.S. are doing it. Chicago is incorporating whole community orchards,” she said.
Help Yourself! was inspired by the Incredible Edible project in the United Kingdom, said Felix Lufkin, co-chairman of the Northampton group.
“We’re just seeking to transform lawns in public places into community orchards and gardens,” he said. While many of the areas were already public space, they feel more communally owned when they bear fruit for anyone who passes by.
Library Director Janet Moulding said she thought the free community garden was an unusual concept when Tanner first suggested it last year. “But then I realized it fits in with our mission as a public library, education and community center,” Moulding said.
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