Borrowed land, borrowed time - 1976

 BACG History Post #21

After four years of work shepherding the community garden movement, Gardens for All had its hands full in 1976. Within the greater Burlington area, twenty-seven community garden sites were the result of GFA's organizing effort. GFA estimated the nationwide count at a thousand community garden sites. 

The community gardens that Gardens for All helped to start in Burlington and surrounding towns would need to become more self-managing to survive. The situation was complicated by the temporary nature of land agreements, along with attrition and year-to-year turnover of community gardeners.    

In Burlington, senior housing planners eyed the prime building lot beside St. Paul's Cathedral for the Cathedral Square Housing Project. A community garden occupied the site during the 1974 and 1975 growing seasons. Although construction of Cathedral Square was not slated to begin until 1977, the St. Paul's community garden site was discontinued before the 1976 season began.

To assist displaced gardeners, new community garden sites were opened in the spring of 1976. The Episcopal Diocese of Vermont provided garden space beside its headquarters on Rock Point. The Winooski Valley Park District provided garden space at the Ethan Allen Homestead. Future Burlington Mayor Bob Kiss was one of the St. Paul's community gardeners who relocated to the new community garden at the Homestead.

The UVM community garden sites near the East Avenue jughandle and on Watertower Hill experienced challenges during the 1976 season. 

UVM students who planted garden plots in the spring tended to travel or move away during the summer, creating maintenance issues. 

The community garden plots at the East Avenue jughandle may have also become a distraction for drivers, according to an anecdotal story shared by a garden organizer.

This photo, which appeared in the November 10, 1976 Burlington Free Press, became prophetic. The UVM community garden sites below the Watertower and East Avenue jughandle were discontinued after the 1976 season.

Tommy Thompson recognized the need to establish long term leases for community garden sites. Land security would lead to an investment in soil improvement, planting of perennials including small fruits and berries, and the installation of water systems - all keys to sustainability.