Gardeners have to be philosophical about what befalls themselves and their crops. But a group of kids over at the Naval Sub Base New London are learning even more of life’s lessons at their new community garden.
The Sub Base Community Garden — located on Serviceberry Road, behind the Balfour Beatty Communities offices, where there’s a reliable source of water and fencing on three sides — has been a labor of love, service and inspiration by a handful of families on base.
With help from the Eastern Connecticut Community Gardens Association (ECCGA), organizer Serena Rice, a Navy wife, and other volunteers, including kids from 22 months to 14 years old, have been working on the garden. They tilled up three plots and set out close to 500 donated plants, from peppers and tomatoes to squash and herbs, the first week of July. The plan was to harvest and deliver fresh, organic produce to veterans living in veterans homes in New London and Jewett City.
“Our goal in starting the garden was not only to lower the cost of food for Navy families who could grow some of their own food in the gardens but to give back to those who served before us,” says Rice, who has called eastern Connecticut home for the past seven years and has lived on the base with her husband, Boyd-Henry Moats, for two years. “It’s a way to connect ourselves and our children to understanding how important it is to not only serve their community but that they are not the first ones going through Navy life. There are many people who came before them, and they are pretty lucky to have the life they do have.”
Rice credits ECCGA — a non-profit corporation that supports the growth of community gardens in the region — for making the group’s plans a reality. ECCGA is working with 80 community gardens. About 40 of those started in the past year, including newest ones at Saint Sophia’s Hellenic Orthodox Church in New London and Saint Ann’s Episcopal Church in Old Lyme, according to David Fairman of ECCGA.
On August 19, Rice and other organizers of a work party to harvest the long-awaited sub base pepper crop, discovered that someone had beaten them to it. In fact, just about all of the plants had been stripped of their fruits, including all of the ripe tomatoes and cukes. Despite the disappointment — especially among the kids, most who had their first experiences with gardening there — Rice is upbeat.
“It’s my hope that whoever took the food really needed it and that they put it to good use,” she says.
Gardeners are, by and large, a helpful lot. Within days, word got around. Area garden centers, farmers and organizations are helping the young gardeners with replanting and are donating food for the veterans.
ECCGA provided more tomato and herb plants. Perennial Harmony Gardens in Waterford donated vegetable seeds. Gardeners are pledging surplus from their gardens.
Arthur Lerner, of F.R.E.S.H. New London, who plans to offer some assistance to the Balfour Beatty gardeners as well, says the disappearing crop is yet another indicator that economic times are tough.
“Food is starting to appear more valuable to people in an economy where there’s no money,” he says. “That’s why we’re seeing more interest by people in planting gardens and growing food.”
F.R.E.S.H., which stands for Food: Resource, Education, Security, Health, is an organization trying to create a healthful, universally accessible, sustainable food system. During the summer, F.R.E.S.H. runs an intensive training, employment and leadership program for teens. They produce, harvest, donate and market vegetables in New London through a network of community gardens and a demonstration garden at the Gemma E. Moran/United Way Labor Food Center, plots at Waterford Country School, a CSA and mobile market.
“What hurt the most was that they cleaned out the kids’ garden section,” says Rice. One of her primary objectives was to help the children learn that vegetables come from the ground, not the grocery store, and that it does matter how they are cared for. She credits Marie Weed, a Navy grandmother, for turning the garden clean-up and replant into a learning experience.
“I just put up 26 jars of sauce and a hundred pounds of corn and squash,” says Rice.
The avid canner plans to distribute these through the veterans home in Jewett City and the New London Homeless Hospitality Center.
“The veterans will not be without, and we have other fundraisers planned to help them,” she says.
Follow progress of the garden at www.facebook.com/#!/groups/sbnlcc. Learn about community gardening at www.facebook.com/ectcg. See more about F.R.E.S.H. at www.freshnewlondon.org.