A new lease on life - 1976

 BACG History Post #22

Tommy Thompson letter to the Winooski Valley Park District
Tommy Thompson traveled to Birmingham, England in September 1976 to attend the International Leisure Gardening Congress. 

He was one of two delegates from the United States. The other delegate, Susan York Drake, worked in the Lake Central Regional Office of the Bureau of Outdoor Recreation, which was part of the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Drake worked to develop and support community gardens in major U.S. cities including Cleveland, Detroit, and Chicago. She prepared a guide to help teach cities how to organize urban community gardens.  

In testimony before Congress, Drake said, "What we have found with community gardening is that to have programs simply for low income families does not work. They fold up."

"However if you develop a neighborhood program that anyone is allowed to be in, you see a lot of self-help. You see people relating who do not normally relate. There is the possibility of other opportunities."

The allotment gardens of Great Britain and other European countries were decades, if not centuries, ahead of the community gardening movement in America. In the U.S., community gardens were often viewed as temporary uses of land to provide food for low income people. Europe's allotment gardens tended to be well-established permanent sites where people from diverse walks of life grew food on family plots and socialized.

Community gardeners at Ethan Allen Homestead
In his letter to the director of the Winooski Valley Park District, Tommy Thompson envisioned the possibilities for a permanent community garden site at Ethan Allen Homestead. 

He wrote, "We are deeply appreciative of the Park District land and hope we can make it an exemplary project in the Burlington area."

Author's note: The photo shows community gardeners harvesting produce at the Ethan Allen Homestead garden site, circa 1980. 

Access to the Winooski Valley Park District land during the 1970s and early 1980s was from Van Patten Parkway in the New North End. The northern extension of Route 127 was opened in the mid 1980s, along with the cloverleaf entrance to Ethan Allen Homestead. Bike paths from the Old North End and New North End were added in later years.

The Winooski Valley Park District has realized Tommy Thompson's vision for a diverse permanent community garden site. Over the years, the Park District has hosted the Children's Discovery Garden, VNA Family Room Garden, Community Teaching Garden, raised bed senior gardens, and the New Farms for New Americans Program, in addition to the original community garden site at Ethan Allen Homestead.