As plants grow, so does planters’ pride - Community garden thrives at new location

As plants grow, so does planters’ pride - Community garden thrives at new location


MERIDEN — At the corner of Liberty and Center streets, a 100-by-40-foot fenced-in garden is filled with flowers, herbs and vegetables.

The Beat the Street Community Center began its community garden project weeks ago. For the last several years, the center’s young people have planted seeds, picked weeds and taken home fresh produce. The garden was once grown at the former Meriden Hub site, but with construction expected to start there soon, Beat the Street Director Larry Pelletier found another site for the garden — one that required a lot of work, but brought together families and organizations.

In the fall, when Pelletier knew the Hub would no longer be available, he called the mayor and city manager, looking for a new location. He wanted a spot that would allow him to collaborate with the city’s neighborhood associations and the Meriden Children First Family Zone, a program that works to support families with young children in the neighborhood Miller and Twiss streets.

“I wanted to make this a project not just inclusive to Beat the Street,” Pelletier said. “I wanted this to be for the neighborhoods and for the Family Zone.”

Pelletier used a vacant lot on the corner of Liberty and Center. With help from the city, civic organizations and other donors, the garden came together. People operated excavators, laid the dirt and built the large fence.

Pelletier said the garden is serving as a test project for what could happen in neighborhoods across the city.

“They can look at this as a template,” Pelletier said Tuesday at the garden’s naming ceremony. A big sign in front of the garden reads “Liberty Neighborhood Community Garden.”

A committee consisting of Beat the Street representatives, Family Zone officials and neighborhood association administrators met a few times. Members developed some garden rules. Families who live in the Lower East Side neighborhood and in the Family Zone had to apply to have a plot in the garden. Twelve plots are cared for by families; one is looked after by Beat the Street members.

“I have peas, beans, mesclun (mixed greens) and cabbage,” said Patricia Jackson, a resident of the Lower East Side neighborhood.

Jackson said she doesn’t have much gardening experience.

“I may not be a farmer, but I wanted to put my fingers in the ground,” she said Tuesday. “This is a way to meet people in the community. We work together. ... I’m having fun.”

Issac Gonzalez, 11, who lives in the Family Zone, was watering his family’s plot Tuesday evening. He was looking after his carrots, radishes, cucumbers and lettuce.

“I come every day,” Issac said.

When he was done watering, he got his hands dirty by picking weeds. He then raked the dirt in his plot and made sure everything was neat and in order. He said carrots are his favorite vegetable.

On Tuesday, a large group of youths, families and city officials gathered in the garden for its naming ceremony. Pelletier told the crowd that, over the past several weeks, the garden has brought many people together.

“There are a lot of benefits that come from this,” Pelletier said. “We’re feeding 12 different families in the area.”

He hopes other neighborhoods emulate the garden project.

“This vacant lot was transformed into a beautiful garden,” said Diane Kubeck, of the Lower East Side Watchdogs Neighborhood Association. “There’s a new sense of pride in the neighborhood.”

Kubeck thanked the garden’s sponsors, but also gave a big thanks to Pelletier. She said Pelletier spent many days, nights and weekends making sure the garden was coming along.

“His dedication and passion has paid off,” Kubeck said.

Through work on the garden, many young people have learned some of the basics of agriculture and landscaping, Kubeck said. They will continue their work and when the time is right, reap the benefits. (203) 317-2279 Twitter: @KPrimicerioRJ

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