By Jennifer McClain and Bonnie Blanchard
With boundless energy and muddy hands, the green thumbs of Malden kicked off the growing season Saturday, May 19, at the city’s community garden, located along the Northern Strand Community (Bike) Trail between Bryant and Faulkner Streets.
Young and old, experienced and beginners joined forces to prepare the plots for the bounty to come; this included a “soup vegetable” garden, a pumpkin patch and a community pick-your-own vegetable spot outside the fenced area. Volunteers also installed a Little Free Library box, practiced yoga, learned about composting and chowed down on pizza and gluten-free muffins.
“It’s amazing to be down here and see people working together,” said City Councilor Barbara Murphy, who had pushed to create a community garden five years ago. “Gardening is a language of its own.”
Coordinating the activities was Julie Mangan, garden manager, who directed volunteers in the day of organization and learn up. Gardeners pay $25 per plot to grow a variety of vegetables and crops. “It’s an extension of your backyard or it IS your backyard,” she said.
The Malden community garden was originally launched with two plots; two more have been already added, and another is planned. Seed money for the community garden came from a development block grant as well as donations from Keurig, Inc., Malden Redevelopment Authority and Seeds of Change. Clay Larsen, project manager for Groundwork Somerville, with help from volunteers and Bike to the Sea, helped get the garden started. There is now a waiting list for plots.
Sue and Bob Cushing were originally on the waiting list but now have a plot. On Saturday they worked together making the hanging herb garden with burlap material. They concurred that they “didn’t know much about gardening but have learned mostly from trial and error.” The herb garden they were creating will be outside of the gardens and available to anyone coming along the trail either to take home to their own gardens or for cooking
When he moved to Malden two years ago from Lowell, one of the first things that Harpreet Tehim searched for was a place to garden Looking up related things in Malden, the Community Garden came up immediately. Harpreet was deeply involved in community gardening when he lived in Lowell for seven years.
On Saturday, Tehim helped to installed a Little Free Library he built with a fellow designer. The library, filled with books, was ready for use by end of day. Harpreet who is originally from India is looking forward to more involvement with Malden’s community resources.
As the morning progressed more community fellows arrived with their gardening tools to help prepare the plots, loading mulch and soil into wheel barrows. From a potato planter made from an old tire, to chicken wire canopies for vines, the various garden plots displayed crops in various stages of budding.
One of the day’s main features was for children from ages 3 to 5: a lesson on “How to Make a Vegetable Soup Garden.” With their parents many children helped with their hand tools in pulling weeds and digging holes for new seeds. It was clear that these children enjoyed being a valued partner in this community activity.
On hand to represent Malden’s “Early Bird Garden Club” for infants to 8-year-olds was Kari Percival and her son, Nate. Percival, a former science teacher, will be using her plot for educational purposes and has included a “Dig Zone” for kids to really get their hands into the earth.
There are already many collaborative efforts with community groups; Housing Families and the Chinese Cultural Connection have a plot here and the YWCA runs a camp at the location. Last year the YWCA camp concluded with pizzas made with donated dough and all hand picked garden toppings.
Maggie Allen helped to prep the plot for the Chinese Cultural Connection, pointing out the areas for strawberries, potatoes, spinach, cilantro, garlic and arugula. She explained how she used to help her mother, who lives in China. “My mother loved gardening,” she recalled. “I usually ask her for advice.”
Councilor Murphy was among those who got her hands dirty, helping to weed the perennial garden. She singled out Julie Mangan for praise for her energy. “She puts the life into it.” Mangan only laughed and admitted she was a “crazy person.”
This story was edited by Stephanie Schorow