Nashuans want to grow to grow a communityBy SIMON RIOS
Union Leader Correspondent January 31. 2013 8:22PM
NASHUA - Gardeners-to-be held their first public meeting Wednesday night, seeking community feedback on efforts to open a community garden in the heart of one the city's poorest neighborhoods.
If all goes well - and the project seems to have good momentum - they will break ground in the spring.
Tom Lopez is one of board members of the Gate City Community Garden, a nascent organization that formed to establish a downtown garden, and perhaps others.
He insisted that there be community stakeholders involved in the project. "It would be a non-starter if we didn't have people in the community who wanted to do it," he said.
Much of the neighborhood is of Latino descent, many of whom congregate at the St. Louis de Gonzague Parish on West Hollis Street. Lopez said he reached out to the Hispanic community, which contains immigrants with agricultural backgrounds.
"Whatever the economic and ethnic makeup of the local community, those are the people we want to reach," he said, adding that they plan to include residents of the Palm Square senior facility, a 140-unit complex in the heart of the neighborhood.
Some 20 people turned out for the meeting, representing a mix of new and regular faces, which was held at Estabrook Grill.
The proposed location for the garden runs parallel with West Hollis St., near the intersection with Pine Street, alongside the Nashua Heritage Rail-Trail. It's three-quarters of an acre, and would host about 20, 4 foot by 8 foot plots.
The new group's mission is to foster social engagement, public wellness, safe neighborhoods, and environmental stewardship in the city through community gardening and educational programming
They say produce is most nutritious when picked locally and freshly, and comes with economic benefits to boot. It's also viewed as a way of bringing communities together - putting the "culture" in agriculture.
Former State Rep. Dee Hogan, R-Nashua, was also at the event. She was nostalgic over the good old days, when gardens were plentiful and people spent Sundays with family.
"You need another garden (in Nashua)," she said firmly. "They are people who came from areas that know (agriculture). I grew up with people, everyone had a garden. We're Italian, we had the tomatoes. This guy's Greek, he had this. And everybody shared their gardens."
Hogan recalled a victory garden in Nashua, part of the community gardening movement that sprouted in the U.S. and Europe during the two world wars. She noted the historical significance of putting a garden in the same neighborhood that once housed a victory garden.
She expressed concerns about security, noting the potential for theft and vandalism. But the more people get involved, the less likely these problems will occur.
"People will care about each other - they're going to be watching out for each other," Hogan said. "And the more people you have . the more people will watch out for it."
In attendance was Elizabeth Van Twuyver, a Republican running for state representative in Nashua's fourth ward, where the garden is to be located. She said that, as a former garden club chairman, it's dynamite to see people stepping up for the cause.
"Any time that the people in the neighborhood take an interest and try to beautify, it's absolutely amazing and it's wonderful," she said.
Van Twuyver said she will contact the Nashua Garden Club - which oversees the gardens at the Nashua Humane Society and at Greeley Park - and potentially serve as an envoy between the two groups.
"We're always looking for beautiful spots with gardens," she said. "The city does need this. Any time that citizens take an active part in beautifying the city, it's good for everyone, the city and also the area."
Approval for the park rests on the city, which organizers are counting on for nonmonetary help.
"I'm sure the mayor would approve," Van Twuyver said.
But Richard Maynard, president of the organization's board, is less certain the mayor will support the project. But considering that the initiative needs public support if it's to be approved, he's hopeful.
"We're pretty close," he said at the meeting, passing around his sign-up sheet with gusto. "This is our initial public kick-off meeting to see if we've got support, and it looks like we have a decent outpouring here."
Maynard said the project will cost in the vicinity of $4,000. Though funding hasn't been worked out, there's talk of approaching local businesses and organizations for in-kind donations and grants.
But it's the people who are the more valuable asset, Maynard said, and they have to be serious about it.
"We need 15 or 20 committed gardeners. I don't want people to say they're committed and then not show up," Maynard said.
Those interested in finding out more can contact GateCityGardens@gmail.com or call (617) 870-4224.