This article originally ran last spring – 2019 – and it is still relevant today. We will get through this pandemic, and begin a new normal at that time.
Saturday, May 11, 2019, turned out to be a beautiful day for the grand opening of the Westerly Land Trust’s beautiful new community garden. A good size crowd was on hand to view the new garden. The garden was moved from its original location at 177 Main Street to help make room for a new proposed restaurant where Amanda’s Pantry used to be. The new community garden has 20 plots, twice the number of the old garden.
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Why a community garden in Westerly? In addition to the benefits the garden can bring such as building a sense of community, improving nutrition, reducing hunger, and increasing physical and mental health, the garden will help transform an empty Main Street parking lot into a beautiful place where community members can come and learn together. Pollinator-friendly plantings and flowering pear trees, along with recycled tree grates, large slabs of Westerly granite, and a nicely designed fence all contribute to this impressive and beautiful garden.
Gardening on public land dates back to the early 19th century when the British government allocated plots of land to the poor to grow vegetables and flowers. They have flourished in some form or another ever since. Community gardens can vary in shape, size, and function but the goal of bringing people and nature together is central to their creation.
They are environmental powerhouses saving energy, keeping chemicals out of our food, preventing soil erosion, promoting biodiversity, and helping educate our children. Community gardens have been shown to have positive health effects, particularly in the areas of decreasing body mass index and lower rates of obesity. Studies have found that community gardens in schools have been found to improve average body mass index in children.
Jennifer Fusco, Westerly Land Trust director, spoke about the garden: “It’s really inspiring to see so many people here today and there are so many people to thank. The new garden was a community effort by local volunteers, organizations and businesses. I’m really excited to see this green space on Main Street. This is Westerly’s gateway to the beach and many people coming into Westerly and driving down Main Street will be able to see that there’s this little patch of green, a beautiful oasis that people can enjoy as they drive by. That’s a really important part of why the Land Trust decided to do this community garden.”
Jennifer Brinton, chairwoman of the land trust’s urban initiative committee, said the garden was just the first part of a larger effort. “This is one piece of the land trust’s greater vision. The land trust, along with the Royce Family Fund, had years ago envisioned acquiring some properties and buildings when they became available, to preserve them toward a future use that would be beneficial to the town of Westerly. This is one of those success stories.”
“Our tree line that starts here,” said Brinton, “will be extended down Main Street. Three businesses on this side of the street have already agreed to plant trees to create a beautiful tree line down Main Street. In the future, we’re excited to be working with CRMC, the Town of Westerly, and the state to develop public access to the Pawcatuck River. So while we’re working to green the street and make Main Street more welcoming and pedestrian friendly we’re also working to make a walkway along the river a reality.”
Westerly’s new community garden will also be part of the Harmony Trail and the home of one of the instruments. It is hoped that the new community garden will be just the beginning of a new Main Street that could be a hub for a range of activities – learning and education, playgroups, arts and creative activities, preparing and sharing food, community events, celebrations, and social enterprise.
“We want the town’s people and the community to feel that this is a place that they can come and relax. They can sit and take in beautiful views of the river and a beautiful garden.” Fusco said.