Home News and Features Row by Row: The Growth of Community Gardens 

Row by Row: The Growth of Community Gardens 

Main Street Middle School students Elena Guadagno, Phoebe Bakeman, and Isabel Moorman look over the Sustainability Garden. Photo by Mary Cole Mello.
Paul Markowitz is working in his garden on a Sunday morning in late July. He might correct you, however, if you said it was “his.” The plot he works in is part of the Gove Garden, a community garden about two miles from downtown Montpelier on Route 12. The Gove Garden is available to those who have no space to plant or those who just want extra space. Members apply for a plot and pay a $30 fee. 

It’s a beautiful day, perfect for the beach or a backyard hammock, but Markowitz seems happy as he shows off a basket of just-picked beans. “I love gardening,” he says. Markowitz isn’t alone. All the plots at the garden are currently spoken for.

Gove Garden was launched in 1994 when Donald Gove opened it to the public on the same fee-paying basis that’s used today. 

When he passed away, Markowitz and others sought to keep the land available. Ultimately, the heirs offered to donate the land to the city, and the Montpelier Conservation Commision supported the transition. The Gove Garden is now a protected space, one of more than 500 community gardens in Vermont. 

The first government-sponsored community garden in the United States was established more than a hundred years ago in response to the financial crisis known as the Panic of 1893. Interest waned when the economy improved and returned again during World War I.
That pattern continued through the 20th century. Whenever the food supply seemed threatened because of war or economic decline, individual and community gardens flourished.

The great migration to the suburbs after World War II offered increased land for gardening, but many suburbanites in the 1950s were more likely to cultivate lawns than lettuce. On the other hand, the new “supermarkets” were sprouting everywhere. Their huge parking lots, bright colorful stores, and vast quantities of food inspired shoppers to grab a cart and head for the aisles. No one seemed to be worrying about the pesticides used to create the bumper crops of produce.

In the 1970s, high inflation prompted another revival of interest in community gardens. The first one in Vermont was established by Lyman Wood at Burlington’s Cliffside Park in 1972. The success of this and the school garden at Shelburne Farms led Wood along with Tommy Thompson, a retired restaurant owner, to found Gardens For All. This organization would help individuals to cultivate vacant lots of land and create new community gardens. Critics told Wood and Thompson that the experiment was doomed to failure. It didn’t fail. Instead Gardens For All became a model for other states, and the community garden movement continued to grow into the 1980s and beyond. It was no longer just a response to a crisis but a way to address the public’s desire for self sufficiency and concern for the environment. Among other benefits, community gardens are more likely to use sustainable methods. From 2008 to 2016, the number of community gardens in the United States grew by 200%. 

One Montpelier family is hoping to guide the next generation by working with teacher Don Taylor and the Main Street Middle School’s Sustainability program. Vic Guadagno and Eileen Shine are offering their property as a model community garden for the middle school students. With the help of neighbors, including one who also donated some of her land, the middle schoolers will be growing vegetables. Their focus will be on the cultivation of native plants (corn, beans, and squash, sometimes referred to as “the three sisters”). The harvested crops will be brought to the school kitchen and turned into meals for the Montpelier Food Pantry.

Vic and Eileen’s daughter, Elena, notes, “It’s cool to give to the community and to work with my classmates to cook meals.” 

We’re looking at food production through a different lens today. There have always been health and economic benefits for the families who plant the seeds and tend the crops, but the focus has been shifting. It’s not just about one family’s welfare, but also the ways in which we all benefit from sustainable practices. 

Many students in Montpelier are growing up in this culture and they’re proud of it. Middle schooler Esme Beaudry notes, “The MSMS community cares and takes responsibility for this garden … they definitely try to be involved with the environment.” 

Community Gardens in Central Vermont

Another Way Community Garden. 125 Barre St., Montpelier. Individual plots or shared space. Contact: Aimee Power, 802-229-0920.

Brook Street Community Garden. Brook Street, Barre. Contact: Ellen Sivret, ellensivret@gmail.com.

Jeremy Silva / Kenny Flood Memorial Garden. Main St., Montpelier.

Duxbury Community Garden. 450 River Rd., Duxbury and 116 Stowe St., Waterbury Village. Fees: $30–$35 (depending on plot size). Gardeners must sign a contract agreeing to follow guidelines. Contact: DuxburyCommunityGarden@gmail.com

Elmwood Community Garden. 133 Washington St, Barre (near the Elmwood Cemetery). Contact: Ellen Sivret, ellensivret@gmail.com.

Feast Farm. Volunteer workers supply organic produce to organizations like the Montpelier Food Pantry and the Feast Senior Meals Kitchen. Feast Farm is moving to a new location on Country Club Road in Montpelier. It will resume operation in 2024. Contact: Charles Watt, 802-904-3225, c.r.watt@gmail.com

The Garden at 485 Elm Street. 485 Elm St., Montpelier. Gardeners work collaboratively to raise food for Montpelier Food Pantry, Community Harvest and others. Contact: sheryl@thegardenat485elm.org

Gove Garden. 2483 Elm St., Route 12, Montpelier. Contact: Paul Markowitz, paul@markowitzvt.com or 802-279-8544.

North Branch Nature Center Community Garden. 713 Elm St., Montpelier. $20 per plot; gardeners contribute volunteer hours. Contact: Nancy Chickering, 802-223-0577.

Northfield Community Garden (partnership with Rotary and community schools). 37 Cross St., Northfield. Contact: Rotary of Northfield, 802-485-6431.

Northfield Street Community Garden. 155 Northfield St., Montpelier. $20 (20×20 plot); gardeners contribute volunteer hours. Contact: Daniel Costin, 802-279-9074.

Workplace Gardens

  • National Life Community Garden, A National Life Dr., Montpelier. Contact: Valerie Johnson, 802-229-7096.
  • SunCommon Community Garden, Waterbury.

Gardens for Residents Only

  • Downstreet Apartments, 22 Keith Ave., Barre.
  • Heaton Woods Community Garden. Contact: 802-223-1157.
  • Green Acres Apartments Community Garden, Chatot and Bergeron Streets, Barre. Contact: Joann Darling, 802-476-3188.