In spite of the wicked heat wave, intrepid gardeners ventured out to tour the Sycamore Community Gardens in Concord, NH located on the campus of the New Hampshire Technical Institute (NHTI). Cheryl Bourassa, garden manager of the Sycamore Community Garden Project, gave us a tour of the gardens and introduced us to some of the gardeners working in the garden that evening.
The garden plots are rented out to 120 low income families, the vast majority of which are refugees from Bhutan. There are also immigrants from Somalia, Sudan, Republic of Congo, Iraq and Burundi. A few plots are open to NHTI employees as well as master gardeners who volunteer at the garden. The gardens are uniquely designed to serve low income families, with tools, water and compost on site. They also work to provide free seeds and seedlings in the spring.
Greens, especially mustard and spinach varieties, are the mainstay of most of the gardens. The gardeners plant crops in succession and let some of them bolt to reseed the plots. In addition to eating the greens fresh, they also ferment the mustard and then dry it for use in the winter to add to their soups and stews.
Tomatoes interplanted with flint corn don’t require tomato cages. As the tomatoes grow, the corn supports the plants. In fact, there was scant evidence of any structures purchased from a store. The gardeners made do with natural materials scavenged from the forest. Weeds were pulled, left to dry and then thrown into the paths or on top of the garden as a mulch. Nothing is wasted.
The gardeners shared their plant wisdom showing us a variety of spinach that was “medicine for your eyes” and explaining that a tiny pinch of rosemary added to warm milk was “very nice and good for your appetite”.
It’s clear that the gardeners were thrilled to have a small plot of land in which to grow the foods that they loved. Most of the refugees live in apartments and have no yards of their own in which to plant a garden. They enjoy coming out with their families to tend their plots and let their children run free.
Life here for the refugees is not easy and they face enormous challenges once they arrive in the United States. One of the refugees shared her story with Cheryl Bourassa and told her that during her first two years in the U.S., she felt like she was dying because she had no garden or connection the earth. Tending her garden has made a world of difference in her life and has made her very happy.
“It’s incredibly difficult work keeping this garden going, but seeing how happy it makes all of the families makes it all worth it.” smiles Cheryl.
The Sycamore Community Garden Project is happy to accept donations of seeds and seedlings along with gently used garden tools. Cash donations are also greatly appreciated.
You can learn more about the Project at sycamorecommunitygardenproject.blogspot.com or e-mail Cheryl Bourassa at firstname.lastname@example.org.