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Havre de Grace gardens grow 'community spirit'

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Gardening in Havre de Grace no longer has to be a lonely affair.

Residents who want to grow tomatoes, cucumbers or even just flowers can buy a 10-by-10 plot on a sunny piece of land at one of four community gardens created by the city's Green Team.

After Carol Zimmerman thought of the idea after seeing it in other places, the team started out with just one garden, on Market Street downtown.

That one site drew eight gardeners to its nine plots when it opened in March 2012, and the Green Team decided to keep the spirit going by taking up three more properties around the city.

This spring, a second garden opened across the street from the first one. The other two are on Seneca Avenue, adjacent to a former skate park and on what used to be Todd Field, the original home of Havre de Grace Little League, and one behind the Havre de Grace Community Center, on a property that used to be a reservoir.

"We really wanted to make sure we could provide space all throughout the city so people could walk to it or have a short drive to it," Barbara Wagner, former city councilwoman and another active Green Team member, said Wednesday.

The whole project has been driven by volunteers, donations and a sense of community spirit, Zimmerman and Wagner said.

Allen Fair allowed the team to use the two lots on Market Street, while the city gave permission for the other two gardens and donated mulch.

Susquehanna Hose Company provided water, and J.M. Huber Corporation donated some water tanks. Big House Signs donated the sign for the garden. Resident Joe Fiocchi helped with tilling.

"The list of partners is just incredible," Wagner said.

Bill Keller, a gardener who moved to Havre de Grace four years ago as part of BRAC, said he was very impressed that the fire company provided water, Zimmerman's husband plowed the garden and the city contributed mulch.

"That's what's really enabled us," he said. "Coming from north [New] Jersey and so forth, it is a very refreshing experience because people do work together, they help each other and, quite frankly, it's very safe as far as people not picking things."

Keller said his plot has been growing "extremely" well, with lettuce and green beans fully sprouting. Zucchini and squash is now growing nicely as well, he said.

"So far, so good," he said on Wednesday. "Some people were there the other night and they were amazed at how fast it was growing."

There are now 45 plots, with 38 gardeners officially signed up. Organizers decided to charge an annual fee of $35 to maintain the gardens.

"There's actually more people than that involved," Zimmerman noted, pointing out families or friends could be using the plots, not just individuals.

The gardens, especially the two on Market Street, which get a lot of foot traffic and public attention, have become the Green Team's most visible initiative.

"I guess there's more people that live in the downtown area who don't have yards," Wagner observed.

Zimmerman said there are advantages to using the community garden no matter where people live.

"All of our sites are very sunny, so they are very conducive to vegetables," she said. "There is a lot of enthusiasm among the gardeners themselves. They really are happy to have space available. People who live in apartments or condos may not have any of their own land to till a garden on, and many homeowners have shady lawns that are not conducive to gardens."

It may not be surprising that some produce is more popular than others.

"Everybody loves tomatoes, so that is very popular. Zucchini, you see a lot of that," Zimmerman said. "People grow herbs of various sorts. Basil, that is very popular; things like cucumber, green beans."

While gardeners must provide their own seeds, equipment and gardening know-how, the camaraderie comes free.

"It appeals to different people, and some people just like the idea of doing things with a group, because it really is a way to build community spirit," Zimmerman said.

Most recently, the gardens ran into some issues from heavy rainfall that organizers are still trying to fix.

"Right now, they actually had a problem with two of the gardens in terms of excess rain," Wagner said.

The Green Team is also looking at new ways to promote the gardens. Organizers are planning to have a garden float in the city's Independence Day Parade and want to have a contest for the largest vegetable.

They also still have room to expand the garden on Seneca Avenue, if they decide to keep expanding.

"We are looking to increase knowledge about the gardens in the city," Zimmerman said.

Wagner said they have been "wonderful" for Havre de Grace.

"I think it's been tremendous. In terms of the Green Team, it's the one visible sign that people can see, and people are interested in it," she said. "There was just a group of young people, people from different garden groups, and they were looking at their stuff, and it's just beautiful."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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