How a Community Garden Went From Online to On-the-Ground

Vermont Digital Economy Project

By Rob Fish
June 5, 2014

Small organizations are at the heart of most communities, and they are often born directly in response to a community’s need. This relationship only deepens once these organizations are established. They depend on their community to help raise funds, to advertise their services and events, and to find volunteers.

Across the state, organizations new and old are discovering that Front Porch Forum is providing them with a new and expanded ability to reach out to and converse with members of their community and others in their service area.

The story below was written by Sheryl Rapée-Adams, Founder and Manager at The Garden at 485 Elm. As a Montpelier resident, I was excited to get involved with this community initiative, and have spent much of my own time working on the garden’s plots. I was also able to help build a website for the garden.

In her article, Sheryl makes it clear that the garden would not have been possible without Front Porch Forum. Now, thanks to Sheryl and Front Porch Forum, over a dozen Montpelier residents who did not have access to their own plot of land have gardens.


Sheryl Rapee-Adams at the Garden at 485 Elm
Sheryl Rapee-Adams gets her hands dirty at the Garden at 485 Elm.

There were these subject lines, among others, on the Montpelier Front Porch Forum:

“Community Garden Seeks Seedlings in Need of Good Home”

“Community Garden Seeks Manure Loader/Hauler”

And the one that started it all:

“Space Available: Community Garden on Elm Street”

Those posts, and others on Front Porch Forum and Facebook, reached people all over Montpelier and in nearby towns. And, The Garden at 485 Elm was born.

Many residents of Vermont’s hilly capital city live on small, shaded lots or in apartments. They want to grow their own food, but the existing community gardens had waiting lists. I’d never gardened before, but I was experienced at eating delicious local food and wanted more.

My husband Chris and I moved from Rutland to Montpelier in October 2013, and our new home has a large, sun-drenched lawn. We had a new community to embed ourselves in, so we decided to start a community garden. My Front Porch Forum posts yielded inquiries from interested gardeners, seasoned and new.

Other community gardens provide each gardener with an individual plot in exchange for a fee and work days. The gardeners then supply, tend, and harvest their own plots.

How organizations are using Front Porch Forum

  • Announcing, advertising, and promoting the services they offer.
  • Using the community calendar to promote events.
  • Gathering stories from residents detailing the impact they are having on the local community for use in presentations and grants.
  • Recruiting volunteers or employees
  • Soliciting donations and In kind services
  • Networking with other organizations and soliciting new ideas.
  • Identifying or confirming critical needs
  • Mobilizing the community around an issue and holding policymakers accountable.
  • Paid advertising to promote their efforts across multiple Front Porch Forums.

We decided to use a different model for our new community garden. The garden’s tagline is “People Growing Together.” Instead of assigning plots to gardeners, the garden’s eight plots are organized into companionable crops. Everyone tends the entire garden, doing the tasks they most enjoy and are best physically able to do.

An older or less energetic gardener can do all the weeding she wants without having to worry about digging or hauling heavy supplies. Someone who enjoys a workout can do plenty of tilling and shoveling someone else meditatively does the watering.

Front Porch Forum members also offered advice, which led me to contact other local community gardens. Gardeners from their waiting lists now garden here at The Garden at 485 Elm. Other community members brought donations of plants, seeds, garden tools, and supplies.

I Googled and found the Vermont Community Garden Network. Chris and I attended VCGN’s Grow It! Statewide Garden Leader Workshop, hosted by staff member Libby Weiland and Vermont’s all-around garden sage Charlie Nardozzi.

Front Porch Forum also brought inquiries from a decades-experienced gardener with teaching and coaching experience. After meeting her, I named Cindy Community Garden Coordinator. Thanks to her untold hours of planning and labor, seeds and seedlings are in the ground and a viable garden and gardening team is emerging. Montpelier Parks Director Geoff Beyer joked, “Tell Cindy you’ll pay her a celery.”

When I learned that the National Life community garden on Northfield Street operates under the auspices of the Montpelier Parks Department, I contacted them. The Garden at 485 Elm now works in partnership with Montpelier Parks.

Parks Department AmeriCorps staffer Stephanie Olsen brought the city’s tractor and tiller and turned over the eight plots we’d staked out. We added soil amendments after UVM soil test results showed we needed to alkalize and make other changes to the soil. Then, Steph returned for a final tilling.

Now a quarter-acre of the sunny, flat, south-facing yard where my husband and I live is under cultivation and has a name: The Garden at 485 Elm. Seventeen gardeners, including two volunteer garden coordinators, are transforming what had been a lawn for decades into eight plots of food.

Lroy Mostacho at the Community Gardens in Montpelier
Lroy Mostacho plants some of the first plants to go in the herb garden at the new Garden at 485 Elm

Front Porch Forum posts continue to bear fruit. Our requests for supplies yielded bags of dead leaves and wood ash. A call for perennials brought a generous contribution of gorgeous bushes, grasses, and flowering plants from a longtime local gardener’s beautiful garden. Thirty cedar posts up to 12’ tall lie beside our driveway as a result of a Front Porch Forum member’s response to my request for affordable fence posts.

Now we’re posting on Front Porch Forum for additional gardeners. We’re calling for help with post-hole digging and mounting the steel hex fence we hope will protect the new garden from deer and woodchucks. We’re seeking assistance with some kind of pump for irrigation, since right now the garden gets watered from a spigot on our house.

Steph from the Parks Department might bring a work team here to do some of that. However, if her project load doesn’t allow that, I have no doubt that between Front Porch Forum and Facebook, help will emerge.

Miss Manners bemoans those choosing social media over personal contact. In fact, social media can bring community members together in person to feed each other.

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