English Street Community Garden

Four-Season Farmer: Growing Leadership Through Community Gardening

Farm Manager Jacqueline Maisonpierre shares a winter reflection on growth and relationships.

Farming is a profession beautifully tied to the rhythms of nature. As a farmer in New England I experience the joys of four seasons, each bringing its beauty and hardships. I feel fortunate to be a farmer in a part of the world where rain is more or less regular, summers are long, leading into our iconic crisp and colorful falls, giving way to snowy and cold winters. The dark days of winter are a challenge for many but offer a much needed reprieve from the daily chores of a vegetable farmer. The ground is frozen and the sun is low, making sitting by the fire reading and reflecting on past season triumphs and mistakes the best use of any farmer’s time.

The 2016 season is an exciting year for me, marking my fourth season with New Haven Farms, four years in Fair Haven working to produce vegetables in unlikely urban spaces. My newness as an urban farmer is wearing off, leaving me space to incorporate more innovative growing techniques, and best yet a foundation of relationships within the community upon which to grow leadership rather than simply vegetables.

New Haven Farms is unique in that we select program participants based on their health needs, working to empower individuals to take their health issues into their own hands, to change their lifestyles rather than only take a pill to make the change for them. Our approach in using CT organic farms is truly organic, reintroducing individuals to the soil that sustains them, showing them the resources available to better their own lives, then leaving the changes wholly up to them. You can lead a student to the door but only they can walk through. It has been my most rewarding endeavor to work with our incubator gardeners, the group of individuals who embraced walking through the door, taking on the great rewards and daily challenges of home gardening and the healthier lifestyle that accompanies it.

Given the opportunity, community members are eager to build connections,
learn new skills, and improve their own health.

Last year New Haven Farms partnered with the New Haven Land Trust to create the Incubator Garden Program. Thanks to Bill and Jean Graustein, and now the Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Foundation, we created a curriculum, built garden beds, and staffed the new program. We called upon our past participants, individuals who had completed the Farm-Based Wellness Program, to join our Incubator Garden Program. The response was tremendous! Our community garden housed 22 families, all learning to grow healthy organic food for themselves. Emily Sloss at the New Haven Land Trust and I served as mentors to these new gardeners. We witnessed the transformation of an unused urban lot into a vibrant community garden. A place where families work together to harvest the fruits of their labor. A space where people hailing from diverse countries and backgrounds find commonality and build community with the shared thread of improving health for themselves and loved ones. “You’ve given us vegetables for many years, now it’s our turn,” commented one gardener. Watching the transformation of these families from receiving to producing has been transformative for us all.

This new program serves as our inspiration. Given the opportunity, community members are eager to build connections, learn new skills, and improve their own health. We will be adding an additional ten families to the Incubator Garden this season. Soon beginning their second year, the gardeners are eager to improve on last year’s errors, finding the joy of walking through the door yet again, into a new season and another year of growth.


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