Helping good grow
By: Kelly Allen, professor of English,
For nearly ten years, I have split my time between teaching—which is what I went to school for— and coordinating the NCC East 40 Community Garden. There is no template for what I do, I’m a tenured writing professor growing food with students, and I love it. What is perhaps the most exciting part of coordinating the community garden is the diversity it supports and encourages. At our community garden we are engaging with individuals from our metropolitan area who have come together for the common goal of growing things. Yet it is the diversity in which we address this common goal that I find absolutely fascinating. We have two dozen plots and at one time we had 28 households sharing these spaces. While I have not officially counted, I am confident that since we’ve started, there have easily been at least 55 households who have gardened with us.
What I find most beautiful about our East 40 gardening community is that no two people have approached it the same way. With that said, I think we can safely place our knowledge of gardening into two categories: The first are those who learned to garden from their parents or some other member of their extended family; the second are those who do not have a clear historical connection with gardening but have decided it’s something they want to do. There is a great deal of comedy in observing the cause and effects practiced by each group. The gardeners who rely on knowledge that has been passed down, make decisions without really asking or understanding why. For instance, I could ask “Hey Beth, what’s the benefit of staking your tomatoes that way?” Her response will generally fall within the parameters of something like “I don’t know, it’s something my parents taught me and I do it because it works.” With our other gardeners, I can ask the same question, but will likely get a response like “I heard about it on You Bet Your Garden and thought I’d try it out. I think it’ll work.” Where these groups branch out depends on where their families are from and what sorts of books or podcasts they're consuming. Despite differing approaches to gardening and the wide variety of knowledge resources gardeners have available to them, the East 40 Community Garden has been a place for them both to shine independently and grow together.
In 2010, a Northampton Community College community garden was the dream of English Professor Kelly Allen and the East 40 Committee. Today, the tract of land known as the "East 40" is a thriving garden in addition to an outdoors classroom where students and members of the community can experience service learning, sustainable gardening, ecological awareness, and healthy living. For more information about East 40 and how you can get involved, contact Kelly Allen at firstname.lastname@example.org.