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Lancaster garden builds community in community

Special to the Union Leader

May 20. 2012 8:28PM
Heather Burkham digs a hole for a fence post while her daughters, Tala Hammon and Solveig Hammon, check out what other volunteers are doing at the garden-raising Saturday for Lancaster's new community garden. (KRISTI GAROFALO)

LANCASTER - The site of the former Elm's Hotel is showing signs of new life - plant life.

More than 30 volunteers worked in Saturday's sun to build garden beds and install fencing at a 'garden raising' to transform the vacant lot into Lancaster's first community garden.

The project's purpose is to offer garden plots to those who don't have access to their own green space, so they can grow their own vegetables.

Project director Melissa Grella is an environmental educator who came up with the idea based on her own experiences living in places without space to plant.

'I knew there were people who needed a place to garden,' she said. 'I was looking everywhere for a good garden place and then one day on a walk, I saw this.'

'This' was a roughly half-block of land, full of concrete debris and an old parking lot, just off Main Street.

Owners David and Linda Rexford planned on seeding the lot. After talking with Grella, they donated it for the community garden and not only cleared the old parking lot, but installed five water spigots.

'They've been wonderful - very, very accommodating,' Grella said.

The community garden is a 'sharing garden,' so there will be no rental fee. Instead, gardeners share their produce with families in need or area agencies like the food pantry and Meals on Wheels.

Organizations such as Coos County 4H Group and Weeks Medical Center signed up to use plots for education and outreach. They will share their produce as well.

On Saturday, volunteer Heidi Barker worked with several crews to lay out and assemble frames for the garden beds.

'It's really awesome to see all the different ages, different backgrounds - all these folks joining together for such an exciting project,' she said.

Barker teaches young people about healthy lifestyles and said the community garden is a great way to teach kids how to grow food and share it with others.

Volunteer Heather Burkham brought her two daughters to the garden raising. She said she's not a gardener, but liked the idea and wanted to help.

'I think it's really exciting what they're doing here,' she said. 'I hope it's here for a long time.'

The garden will have 36 to 38 beds, including six 'pool table' raised beds, which wheelchairs can fit under. So far, 25 gardeners have signed up.

The garden is sponsored by non-profit Red Eft Project, an organization Grella co-founded to help community projects like this grow.

They've received a $15,000 grant from the Tillotson Foundation, with an additional $6,250 match in volunteer time, materials and donations so far.

Funds will continue to be raised from the sale of engraved garden bricks to be placed in the garden's central community space and the 'sponsor-a-bed' program.

As she watched children and their elders laugh, joke and tease as they built their dream garden, Grella said she was glad the project was bringing people of all ages together.

'It's already a community within a community.'


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