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McDougall/My Turn: A garden and its people

It started one stultifying August day when Rich Pascale of Shoestring Farm brought his Gravely “walk-behind tractor” down from the hills to help break ground for the Pleasant Street Community Garden on the grounds of the Davis Street School Administration Building. Rich worked steadily for eight hours, stopping only a couple of times to sip water, until we had the inkling of a dream: soil where apartment dwellers and other landless citizens can sow seeds close to home.

That was 15 years ago. Today, plots are tended by people of all ages, including pre-teens who’ve been members all their lives. In the heart of Greenfield, we grow vegetables, fruits, berries, herbs and flowers. To quote founding member Suzy Polucci, “We grow people, too.”

The people are as important as the produce. We play bocce, share potlucks, jam with guitars and fiddles, turn compost, or pick and eat all the strawberries our bellies can hold. We learn more about old friends, and make new ones.

This quiet little section of town is a thriving story populated by gardeners, dog walkers, photographers, impish kids heading home from school, young parents, elders and many others. In fact, it’s made up of thousands of stories. Like this ...

Years ago, while turning compost, I noticed three modern-day Huck Finns. They didn’t see me, and gleefully commenced a Tomato War. Rotting orbs went zinging back and forth; I nearly became collateral damage. I hadn’t yet given birth to my own impish kid, but I knew the territory well, having grown up in a huge, rural Québecois family. “Hey!” I shouted. The boys froze. They sized me up: just a woman and a shovel, neither one very big. Threat level? Fairly low. Better run anyway. Off they loped, but slowly. “Hey!” I shouted again, “Come back! I want to show you something cool.” Curious, or maybe just bored, they circled back. I didn’t mention the tomatoes ... not yet. “You guys know about compost?” I asked, as if I was I was offering to demonstrate race-car driving or thermonuclear dynamics.

“You mean stinky kitchen scraps?” the biggest one said, with a glint in his eye. “EX-ACT-LY!” I said. “Except they don’t have to be stinky, if you do this part right.” I showed them where an ecstatic clan of earthworms was having a family reunion. “This pile started as food scraps, and now it’s on its way to becoming Black Gold ... rich soil.” Huck No. 1, the biggest boy, let out a long, low whistle. “Dudes, look at them WORMS,” he said conspiratorially.

“They’re not for throwing,” I said, chuckling. Their eyes darted back to me, reminded of their transgressions. They waited to see where I was going with this line of thought. “Tell you what, guys,” I said, surveying the compost bins constructed from old pallets. “Others will show up soon to help, but I could sure use some help now. Shoveling this stuff isn’t as easy as it used to be, now that I’m 37.” I was kidding, but they looked at me with such pity that I could tell they thought I’d reached a truly advanced age. “If you help me turn the compost from this bin into that bin, I’ll forget I saw you engaged in illegal behavior.” At the word illegal, one of them snapped his mouth shut; his eyes grew in size. The smallest one whispered, “You wouldn’t ... turn us in?”

“Once you grab shovels, my memory is wiped clean,” I muttered. I pointed to the pile of tools. They chose their weapons, and attacked the pile with a pre-teen zeal that left me breathless. They engaged in age-old rites involving bravado and fond insults that brought back many memories. They made short work of it. Leaning back on his shovel, Huck No. 1 breezily asked, “Is that ALL?” These boys wanted more work! No shortage of that in a community garden. They greeted members of the work crew and spent two hours helping us.

As they were leaving, I thanked them for their help and said, “As you noted, some gardeners don’t manage to harvest all their tomatoes in a timely fashion. If you find any more on the ground, it would be a big help if you throw them ... into the compost pile.” They looked at each other stealthily and, then, catching my wink, burst out laughing and asked when they could come back.

Those kids, and others, came back many times. Huck No. 1 has a real name: Stevie. He became one of my favorite kids. His single mom appreciated the time he spent hanging out in a wholesome place. There were no losers, only winners ... all because we live in a town that understands that people need and deserve a place to grow food and get to know each other.

The Pleasant Street Community Garden broke ground in 1999. There will be an Opening Day Celebration and Fifteenth Anniversary Party on Saturday, April 26, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the garden, corner of School and Pleasant streets in Greenfield. All are welcome to come play and/or work. Cake is served at 2 p.m. Food scraps go ... in the compost pile.

Eveline MacDougall lives in Greenfield. She’s the founder and director of the Amandla Chorus and Song Squad, homeschools her son, performs with the duo FIRE POND, creates original artwork for Sweet Pea Cottage Industries and was the impetus behind the founding of the Pleasant Street Community Garden. She loves nothing more than to support kids in having a little harmless fun.

Well written and inspiring as always....thanks for sharing this and for doing so much for the town.

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