CHAMPLAIN — Mayor Greg Martin made his way to the Village of Champlain Community Garden with his mind on a head of broccoli.
It was ripe for picking, but when he got there, it had already been picked.
“People are helping themselves to the community garden,” he said.
Also missing were onions, green beans, zucchini — and only produce ready to harvest.
It wasn’t a hungry four-legged creature, the mayor said.
“You can see on my head of broccoli where it was cut.”
There are 18 15-by-15-foot plots in the garden, 17 of which are tended by local folks growing their own crops.
“If anybody had wanted the stuff, all they would have had to do was ask,” Martin said.
Now, “No Trespassing” signs warn human scavengers off.
SENSE OF COMMUNITY
That sour note is sweetened, though, by the broader picture.
Nightly and on weekends, the garden is a busy, homey place as villagers weed, water and harvest their vegetables. They visit with one another, too, Martin said, and even water a absent neighbor’s plot if it seems too dry.
This garden instills a sense of community, he said.
And it has grown in more ways than one.
“We doubled in size,” from nine to 18 plots, Martin said. “And the plots are twice as big.”
Some people tend more than one plot, he said, with between 35 and 50 folks who garden there; the mayor’s plot grow tomatoes, zucchini, onions and cabbage.
Villagers aren’t the only ones enjoying the garden.
“We have turtles in there; I can see the flipper marks,” Martin said.
The garden is built in a flood zone off Main Street, owned by the village since the Federal Emergency Management Agency bought out and removed many structures there due to recurrent, damaging inundations from the nearby Great Chazy River.
How do the plants get watered? The village employees fill up a tank of water and bring it there for gardeners to use.
FEEDS THE NEEDY
The garden grew out of an idea Rachael Soluri had last year. Then a student at Northeastern Clinton Central School, she started the campaign for the project with her adviser Janet McFetridge and the Village of Champlain, who wanted to get young people involved.
A villager doesn’t have to pay for a plot but does anyway in a very unique way. Many donate some of their veggies to the JCEO Community Outreach Center food pantry at the Village Office, where “they know it will go back to locals,” Rachael said. “That’s the whole community part. Instead of paying, that’s the work.”
Some people have gardens at home and plant others at the Community Garden just to contribute to the food shelf, the mayor said.
Last year, Sharon Garden of Country Gardens Greenhouse in Beekmantown donated plants to the JCEO plots.
The Village Board is attempting to revive the almost empty downtown by adding a playground to nearby River Street Park, the mayor said, which will bring even more of a sense to community.
“I also think the downtown used to be a ‘hopping’ place, and I feel like the Community Garden brings people together,” Soluri said.
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