Transition Town Charlotte, VT: From Small Potatoes to an Edible Community

Inspired by Transition Town Charlotte’s (TTC) response to a challenge from Transition US, three demonstration vegetable plots at the Charlotte Library, Charlotte Central School, and the Charlotte Congregational Church are nurturing a growing interest among adults and children in local food production as part of a sustainable, resilient future.

It all started in 2012, when Transition US offered a Community Resilience Challenge to Transition communities. The challenge was to pick up shovels and tools to help construct rainwater harvesting systems, install solar panels, make energy efficiency improvements, create gardens, and share garden know-how with friends and neighbors, all the while educating and empowering community, and supporting local businesses.”

That first year our activities included a small a “hay bale” potato garden next to the library, with the enthusiastic support of library director and the library board. One person volunteered to rototill the site. Another donated compost. (They have continued their generosity each year.) TTC provided funds for the seed potatoes. We posted our project on the Transition US website joining hundreds of communities nationwide who had risen to the Transition US challenge. We held a “Spud Fest” after harvest, where folks shared their potato dishes. The potatoes from the garden were donated to the food shelf. We received so many positive comments about the garden that we were encouraged to continue the following year.

In May of 2013 we again rose to the Transition US Community Resilience Challenge, expanding the garden to include potatoes, tomatoes, and pole beans. That summer, someone had planned a library workshop with children, reading about gardens, building fairy houses, and playing in the center of the pole bean teepee. Another person approached TTC with her ideas about a garden and composting at the school gardens. She hoped to engage the students in the project. We were enthusiastic about her plans and encouraged her to find collaborators to go forward, which she did. We felt this was a partnership between the school garden and the library garden. The library director picked some of the cherry tomatoes and placed them in a bowl on the library desk. She was delighted to see children helping themselves to these tasty, healthy treats, while learning they had been grown locally.

In 2014 we expanded the gardens at the school and the library. Composting bins were brought to the library site and, due to the generosity of a local grower we removed some invasive bushes and planted blueberries at the library. A farmer donated mulch hay. How blessed we are in our community! It was wonderful to see children planting with their parents. Some greens and miscellaneous other small plants found their way into the garden. In 2014 we also had been approached by the Charlotte Congregational Church to discuss a garden at the church.

An exciting outgrowth of the gardens is the involvement of children. At the church, children will be involved in planting this year’s garden and tending it through the summer. At the library there will be summer garden programs for youth organized by the youth librarian. According to her, “The theme for the summer reading program this year is ‘Every Hero has a Story.’ Not only are caped crusaders or Greek Gods heroes, we are surrounded by superheroes in our own community. They are people that make Charlotte a great place to be a kid. Learning the basics of planting, weeding and harvesting from our own library garden will be a great program to start them off on their way to be future garden heroes. Our gardeners will meet throughout the summer to pick what the garden has to offer and then plan a snack around the food we have picked.”

Someone working on the school gardens shared that “Charlotte Central School has offered 3rd and 4th graders a gardening experience for the past several years, but a group of parents and staff wanted to expand the opportunity to all students while providing fresh, organic food for the lunch program. A second garden site was chosen on the west side of the playing grounds, which has already grown into the CCS Edible Schoolyard. With 12 raised beds, separate potato and squash patches, a perennial garden, a mushroom project, a small orchard, and pollinator lanes, as well as an outdoor classroom with sunchoke (Jerusalem artichoke) walls and the compost shed, the area offers a great deal of food and agriculture literacy learning and hundreds of pounds of fresh produce for the school lunch program. Summer garden care is divided between two weeks of Green Thumbs summer camp for rising K-through-5 children led by  a CCS alumna and volunteer help.”

And according to a church member, “The church stewardship garden debuted as a reminder of our need to care for Earth and the bounty we receive from it. Last year Sunday school children tended the garden throughout the summer, collected the harvest for the food shelf and made parsons pesto for the church's first ever harvest festival. The children will again be involved with the gardens, reminding them of where their food comes from and about generosity with the gift of the food to the Charlotte Food Shelf. We look forward to expanding the garden this year and sharing with the community.”

Who would have thought that planting a few potatoes would evolve into such a community-involved project, assisting people in need, getting folks working together outside, and slowly eliminating the need for fertilizers and fossil fuels to mow lawns?

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