MIDDLEBURY — A brewery’s backyard might seem like an unlikely location for a community garden. But when Otter Creek Brewing volunteered the land behind their facility in Middlebury last year, county residents of all shapes and sizes jumped on board to begin planning what is now the Otter Creek Organic Community Garden.
Twenty plots, each four feet wide and 20 feet long, provide a diverse neighborhood of vegetation and people — veteran gardeners work next to novices, elders alongside students, and families adjacent to solo gardeners. For $30, from May to mid-October, a gardener can secure a plot, which includes compost, the use of tools, water and the occasional donated plant or seeds.
Four plots are occupied by the Vermont Master Gardeners as demo plots, where those less experienced can sneak a peek at a proficient plot. The masters themselves set aside time once a week to answer any questions gardeners may have.
The garden is also home to plots occupied by Addison County Court Diversion, Neighborworks Alliance of Vermont and the Counseling Service of Addison County where produce from these plots go toward people in need.
Erin Buckwalter, chair of the garden’s steering committee, said she only anticipates the garden getting bigger in the future.
“I would eventually like to see small neighborhood gardens throughout Middlebury,” she said.
Moving one step closer to Buckwalter’s dream, community garden members will be holding a daylong fundraiser at Two Brother’s Tavern on Aug. 17 to benefit the Middlebury Area Community Gardens.
On a sunny afternoon, two gardeners, Colleen Converse and Kim Potter, stopped by to check the progress of their plots. Both ladies explained that despite this summer’s relentless rain and the garden’s base of hard clay soil, the two enjoy having the chance to work in their plots; an opportunity they said would not be possible without the presence of the community garden.
Converse’s plot is purely utilitarian. Her garden is very straightforward — tomatoes, summer squash, peppers, basil, parsley and eggplant.
“I’m just worried about how much food I can get out of the garden,” she admitted.
With a degree in agriculture, Converse worked on an organic vegetable farm for 10 years prior to joining the community garden. Now, she said, managing her smaller plot is a much different experience.
Converse is a resident of Ripton and when she comes to work at Middlebury College, the garden keeps her busy during down time. On some lunch breaks Converse can be seen bent over at her patch “putzing around in the garden.”
“I love the fresh air and being outside,” she said. “I’m not really used to sitting at a desk all day.”
Along with her own fruitful patch, Converse also tends to a communal garden, which she admits is a replica of her own, where the gardeners can swing by and pick basil, winter squash, eggplant, peppers and parsley donated by the Middlebury College Organic Garden.
When Converse moved from New York to the region, she found that joining the community garden was an easy way to make fast friends with similar interests.
“It’s a fun thing to do with your family or friends,” she said.
And when asked what advice she had for gardeners who a bit hesitant about starting their new garden or joining a community garden, Converse gave this simple piece of advice: “Gardening isn’t rocket science, you can’t be afraid of it.”
When Kim Potter moved to a wooded property that didn’t allow much room for gardening, the veteran gardener of 38 years was on the lookout for a new space to continue her craft. Potter has worked with organizations like the Vermont Feed Program and Rutland Area Farm and Food Link, where community is a big part of food production. So it was a logical move to the community garden, where Oitter grows green beans, zucchini, beats, cucumbers, assorted lettuce, parsley, basil, Borage, tomatoes, peppers and eggplant.
“I do like to garden to reduce the feed bill,” she said. “I like to know where it comes from and where it goes.”
Though the wet summer has been a perfect climate for weeds, Potter said she doesn’t mind spending time pulling up the pests; she finds the physical work therapeutic.
For those looking to start their first garden, Potter suggests contacting a master gardener or local gardener as a mentor.
“You can spend a lot of time studying but you don’t know until you actually do it,” she said. “There are so many variables, there’s a lot to know.”