Neighbors protest Bennington community garden

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(Host) Ever since Michelle Obama dug her trowel into the White House Lawn this spring, community gardens have been springing up everywhere.

But they don’t always make everyone happy.

Some residents of a Bennington neighborhood are protesting a community garden on their street.

VPR’s Susan Keese has more.

(Niles) And we have broccoli… that’s zucchini. Oh, Yes! There is one…

(Keese) Lorraine Niles could be a walking advertisement for the pure pleasure community gardens can bring.

The Bennington grandmother discovered gardening last summer when the Morgan Spring Community Garden opened on Bennington’s Bradford Street.

(Niles) Oh, yes, that is ready. You’re going to be a witness, here we go… twist gently.. oh, isn’t that beautiful?! Oh!

(Keese) This year Niles is tending at least four plots and she’s spearheading a program to distribute produce where it’s needed around town.

She stops to admire a row of lettuce.

(Niles) I just picked this morning.  And I’ll be bringing that to Harvest Christian ministry and then the next batch will be for Bennington Project Independence. Every gardener that has a plot here has a spot with donated plants that they will be harvesting for the project.

(Keese) That’s 38 gardeners this year. The garden has almost doubled in size since 2008.

But that growth has been a problem for Jacqueline Boucher. She lives across the street from the Morgan Spring Community garden.

(Boucher) And none of us on this street were even notified.

(Keese) Boucher is among the Bradford Street residents who are not happy that the garden is here.

(Boucher) It’s very disorganized. It’s not visually appealing as far as I’m concerned or many of the residents that live across the street. It just seems like there’s so much more chaos here than there was.  You know we’re concerned about home values. Who’s going to buy my home now that this garden’s across the street from it?

(Keese) Boucher and her mother, Cathleen Boucher, who lives next door, met twice with town officials over the issue. The second time gardeners were invited as well.

The garden occupies a narrow, formerly grassy strip bordering the tennis courts at the edge of the town recreation complex.

(Colvin) It’s part of the recreation center lands that the Bennington people own.

(Keese) Lodie Colvin is chairwoman of the Bennington Selectboard. 

She says Bradford Street is chaotic this summer because it’s a detour for trucks during construction of the second leg of the Bennington Bypass.

(Colvin) And it just compounds the frustration of the neighbors – a few neighbors. But the board is firm in its opinion that it’s a great use for the property.

(Keese) Garden Co-founder Jenn Krijnen says the gardeners are trying to be careful about parking and other issues raised by the Bouchers. She also says many neighbors have stopped by to say they like the garden.

Krijnen says it never occurred to her that people would want to be personally notified.

(Krijnen) I put up fliers saying, grow your own healthy organic foods and have fun.

(Keese) But community garden veterans say change can be difficult where neighborhoods are concerned. Jim Flint is director of Friends of Burlington Gardens, which oversees the Vermont Community Garden network.

(Flint) When organizing a new community garden or any community project for that matter one of the best practices is to try and identify all the different stake holders who have an interest whether it’s a positive interest or perhaps maybe opposed.

(Keese) Flint says it also sounds as if gardeners and neighbors need to understand each other better. And he praised the town of Bennington for helping to make that happen.

For VPR News, I’m Susan Keese.

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