Sense of 'community' flourishes at Fairfield garden plots
Published 12:31 pm, Monday, November 15, 2010
A plot of public land that became an "accidental" community garden 15 years ago, when some residents of the Parish Court senior citizens' housing complex across the street began planting there without permission, has blossomed into a thriving town-sanctioned garden that provides produce not only to gardeners with assigned plots, but to cancer patients and the homeless as well.
Some of the gardeners share their bounty with the food pantry at Operation Hope, the local homeless shelter and community kitchen, and with St. Vincent's Medical Center in Bridgeport and other medical facilities that treat cancer patients.
Eric Frisk, who has managed the site since it was officially designated a public gardening space in 1995, said about one-third of the 46 plots in Drew Park on Warde Terrace are used by people growing vegetables and fruits specifically for Operation Hope. Ten of those 10-by-20-foot plots are farmed by Frisk's church, Our Savior's Lutheran Church in Fairfield, for the food pantry.
"I call it Grace's Garden," he said.
The Fairfield Community Garden hosted an Open Garden/Harvest Day on Oct. 30 to showcase the educational, experimental and edible garden. Several of the gardeners were on hand to answer questions about their gardens and talk about what types and varieties of vegetables and fruits were grown there this year.
"None of us use pesticides here," said Frisk, who used one of several demonstration gardens to show people how to start a so-called "lasagna" garden, which involves layering newspaper, soil and organic or composing materials.
"It's a non-till method. You can start a lasagna garden on top of a lawn. You don't have to start by turning the soil," he said.
Frisk also had children help him dig up potatoes and sweet potatoes and they caught a glimpse of unusual varieties of pumpkins growing in the garden plots -- Cinderella, Cheese, Rogue d' Temps and others. He showed people his experimental garden, including two varieties of eggplants and oddly shaped peppers that resemble alien spacecraft. Frisk is also growing artichokes and tomatillos.
"We're trying different varieties of all different vegetables to see what grows best, and we're growing a lot of types of vegetables that people don't know they can grow in the Northeast," he said. The community gardeners also grow more typical produce including lettuce, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, broccoli rabe, spinach, kale and herbs.
"This year was absolutely the best year ever; the best summer crop season in my 15 years here," Frisk said.
And the season is not over yet. On Labor Day weekend, gardeners planted two long rows of micro greens, which have already fed a group of about 45 Girl Scouts, their parents and the senior citizens of Parish Court.
Anne Tack, the leader of the fourth-grade Girl Scout Troop 33103 at North Stratfield School, said the scouts converged on the community garden Oct. 22, picked micro greens, tomatoes and peppers, brought them to Parish Court, where they and the seniors made salads with the freshly picked ingredients.
"It always tastes better fresh," Frisk said.
Tack said the Scouts' meal with the seniors and the garden connection served as a requirement related to two badges they are working to earn: Across the Generations and Food Power. Tack said the event helped her scouts learn "about the value of healthy food and the importance of community." Frisk said he is working on getting grant money to create raised garden beds so that they will be accessible to people in wheelchairs and senior gardeners won't have to bend so far down to reach the soil.
The Fairfield community garden plots are administered by the town's Department of Public Works.
Any resident of Fairfield can get a plot free of charge, depending on availability of the limited space, by calling Tree Warden Ken Placko at 203-256-3177. Volunteers to help weed and water are also welcome.