The Branford Community Gardens supports gardeners of all levels. They share their experiences and expertise. And, of course, enjoy and share the produce. Stop & Shop has supported this organization through the Community Bag and Bloomin’ 4 Good Programs.
Tell us about the Branford Community Gardens.
The mission of Branford Community Gardens is to provide Branford residents access to gardening plots for their personal use. Additionally, we help those in need in our community by offering them organically grown produce at the local food pantry and soup kitchen.
After the economic downturn in 2008, several people in Branford got together, forming a group called Neighbors Helping Neighbors. Connie Drysdale was a member of this group, and she suggested starting a community garden in Branford. She got the word out by contacting the head of the school board, the Branford Recreation Department and the Garden Club.
I was a member of the Garden Club at the time. When this endeavor was announced, I distinctly remember saying, “I don’t want just to help out; I want to be a part of this.” I came on as the Horticultural Advisor. We also had a retired lawyer helping us, which was terrific because she could handle the paperwork to set up the not-for-profit. So, between the head of the school board and the recreation department, they figured out where the property was available, with full sun and access to water. We did some fundraising, and the town helped lay out the footprint. It all came together, and we had our local garden!
There was a synergy of different people from the community who helped. A local farmer plowed the area for the plots. With Connie’s leadership, we got together and managed to make it happen. We started growing in 2009, and we’ve been growing ever since then.
What services do you provide to the community?
As I mentioned, we provide space for Branford residents to garden. Maybe your house has a yard that is too shady, or you live in a condo or an apartment, or you want to be a part of a community. The garden is great for community members new to gardening who need help and advice. We get people with all ranges of experience. This service provides guidance in a community space.
The garden is great for community members new to gardening who need help and advice.
The other service we provide is growing organic produce to donate to the Community Dining Room (CDR) in Branford; this is the soup kitchen where they serve lunch and dinner. We also donate produce to the Branford Food Pantry (BFP), which gives out fresh produce and canned goods.
Within the Community Gardens, there is an all-volunteer effort on a 20” x 50” plot called the Seed, Weed, and Feed Program (SWF). These volunteers are Branford residents, community gardeners and Branford Garden Club members who know about the garden and want to get their hands dirty. For this plot, we start planting in early April and typically harvest until the end of October. A few times a year, we have work parties where I call these volunteers to the garden. They put down wood chips between the SWF beds, weed and plant seedlings. Then a couple of times a week during the growing season, we harvest and take the produce to donate. Our team has been doing this since 2009.
We also fundraise in May by having a seedling sale and in September by having a produce sale. For the May sale, we give our selection of seeds to Vaiuso Farms, a grower with greenhouses in Branford. They kindly take our seeds and plant them, and then we transplant the seedlings to sell. Several of us within the garden also start seedlings at our own homes. We have growing lights and heating mats. Those seedlings also go to the sale, which happens on the town green. This is an opportunity for people in the community to get seedlings they can’t get anywhere else.
For example, the pandemic put a kibosh on these sales. Last year, when we came back to the green, a man came up to me and said, “I’m so glad to see you back. Before the pandemic, I would come here and buy husk cherry seedlings. I started growing them for my kids, and they love them. But I couldn’t get them anywhere when the sale didn’t happen. I’m so glad you’re back again!” (A husk cherry is a fruit in the same family as a tomato and a tomatillo. Their flavor description is like a pineapple Lifesaver candy.)
The September sale is in conjunction with the Branford Arts and Cultural Alliance. They have a craft fair on the Branford green. Like a mini farmers’ market, we sell organically grown produce from the community garden and flowers arranged by Branford Garden Club members at reasonable prices. We also have several fall seedling selections for sale because one thing people run into is if they’d like to plant lettuce or escarole in the fall, they can’t get the seedlings from most garden centers after the spring season. So we provide people with plants for the fall.
For me, it’s very heartwarming to offer something unique that people enjoy; there’s a novelty factor. It’s great to encourage people to try something new; we have seedlings you aren’t going to find anywhere else. Also, our prices are very practical because, for both these fundraisers, we need to sell out in one day. Yes, they’re fundraisers, but it’s also an excellent service to the community, and people come from all over.
For me, it’s very heartwarming to offer something unique that people enjoy; there’s a novelty factor.
What sets you apart from other nonprofits in your community?
Locally, we’re the only one. There is no other community garden in Branford.
People do talk at times about trying to start another community garden. They come to us and ask questions. We let them know they need full sun and access to water, which is tricky to find. Most times, it doesn’t work out for that reason.
Tell us a story that illustrates the good work of your organization.
I distinctly remember a few years ago, when I went into the Community Dining Room with our donation, I had eight or ten heads of cabbage. The woman there could have hugged me because when she pulled open the refrigerator that day, there was one head of cabbage and no fresh produce for them. That excitement was so heartening.
There was one day this summer as well. I went in, and the director of the Community Dining Room saw me and said, “You just made my day. I needed salads for 100 people at five o’clock today, and I didn’t have the produce. But now, here it is.” It’s such a reward to provide necessary food for people in need.
Another significant time for us was during the pandemic; the garden was a place to go. Any number of people could be outside and socialize safely. Even with the seed shortages, due to everyone staying home and gardening, people thought the community garden was a safe outlet to socialize. By nature, the garden was even more critical to the community.
What is your most outstanding achievement or contribution to the community?
We are very proud of the Seed, Weed, and Feed Program. It’s been going on since our start. And each year, we are honored to provide produce to those in need.
What do you want people to know about the Branford Community Gardens?
We welcome new and experienced gardeners. You must be a Branford resident, but any community member can join our waitlist; it’s about 17 people. We have some people who have been with us since we started, and from year to year, we typically have a turnover of zero to three garden plots.
We welcome new and experienced gardeners.
How are you using the funds raised from the Stop & Shop Community Bag and Bloomin’ 4 Good Programs?
These funds go to pay the insurance or the water bill. We also use funds like this to buy new tools, fertilizers, seeds and supplies for the Seed, Weed, and Feed Program.
We need money to keep the program going. And then, during the pandemic, we couldn’t run the fundraisers. It was more challenging. When we received money from the Stop & Shop Community Bag program, we would say, “Oh, this is nice. How great!” It’s an excellent extra supplement.
Is there anything you’d like to add?
If community members want to get their names on the waitlist, they can visit our website at branfordctgardens.org. There’s a form to fill out and send in. We welcome any Branford resident who is interested in organically growing their own produce.
Published September 26, 2023.