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November 12. 2012 6:55PM

Community garden guide covers a lot of New Hampshire ground


 

NASHUA - For Tina Burr, community gardens are more than just a quaint way to a grow a few veggies - they're an integral part of food security.

"We need to take our food back. We need to get our health back," said Burr, a master gardener in Strafford County. "If infrastructure fails, the stores are out of food in three days. And then what?"

Burr recently coauthored a book along with two other master gardeners and a professor from the UNH Cooperative Extension, "Community Gardening in New Hampshire." She gave a presentation on the book last week for Visualize Nashua, a community organization considering establishing a garden in Nashua.

Community gardens represent a serious undertaking. Not only do people have to be willing to farm; there is a myriad of legal, social and municipal issues that must be reckoned with.

"So, you want to start a garden," Burr said. "What do you do first? You get together and you find out what you have in common."

This involves identifying the shared values of those interested in gardening together. Then a plan is made and a mission statement declared.

The first step from there, she said, is to find a place for the garden to be located. The area needs at least six hours of sunlight, good soil and drainage, and access to water. "If you don't have these four things it's not going to matter how many hours you work."

It also helps to have the garden near where people live.

Another key is researching the space to identify issues relative to safety and land ownership. Burr said it's important to have at least three years of guaranteed access to the land, considering that's about how long it takes to get a garden going. Insurance should be accounted for, ideally by adding a rider to the policy of the landowner.

Then it's time to start reaching out to interested individuals and organizations - perspective gardeners and the local agricultural commission.

Burr also recommended meeting with the police department as a security precaution, as well as the closest school, which might want to participate.

"Communicate, communicate, communicate."

Burr said community gardens can break down because of poor communication.

Good communication, and matching people with what they're interested in doing, are key to success.

"Talk to your neighbors, see if they have any concerns, tell them what your plans are, talk about traffic in the neighborhood, talk about where people are going to be parking," Burr said.

Burr went into the various aspects of managing the garden. Someone should be in charge of orienting new people; someone should be in charge of outreach and communication. "Who wants to be the one to train the new people? Who wants to be the one to send out an email every week keeping everybody informed? Let your folks do the things they feel good about doing."

Outside resources should also be considered. Will contractors need to be hired and can the garden afford it? Or can the same work be done by volunteers? Often local hardware stores are willing to contribute supplies to the garden - establish contact with them.

A community garden also needs to consider what it will grow. "Here's the secret: Grow what you want to eat," Burr said. "Then you'll have a lot of motivation to succeed."

The book was released last month and the first printing of 40 copies is already sold, Burr said. A digital version will be available at the UNH Cooperative website, extension.unh.edu. The website contains a wealth of resources on the subject, including a map detailing community gardens across the state at bit.ly/NfhcN1.

Master gardeners all over the state available for consultation through the UNH Cooperative Extension, Burr said. "Every master gardener has to put in a certain number of volunteer hours in order to keep current. We don't get paid, we don't get rich, we don't get famous, but we love doing it."

More information about the book and about gardening in the Granite State can be found by contacting the Extension Education Center at 877-398-4769, or by emailing questions to answers@unh.edu.

srios@newstote.com


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