Fitchburg gardening efforts rewarded

By Elizabeth Dobbins,

UPDATED:   08/11/2017 10:50:37 AM EDT

FITCHBURG -- For months residents in a neighborhood north of Main Street have tended to their garden and while many have food -- tomatoes, eggplants and zucchinis -- to show for their labor, others also have rewards that are less edible. 



NewVue Communities, ReImagine North of Main and Growing Places announced the winners of the Garden Box Competition Thursday evening at the farmer's market on the Upper Common. 

The winners are: 

* Most Creative Container: 1st Place - Denise Tully, 2nd Place - Mary Torres 

* Most engaged: 1st Place - Crystal Surrett, 2nd Place - Ruth Ferrieras, 3rd Place - Angela Chamberlain 

* Best Veggie Garden: 1st Place - Ellen Cunha, 2nd Place - Wendy Olson 

* Best Mixed Garden: 1st Place - Debra Seager 

This community-building challenge, which started on Earth Day this April, came to a close Thursday, according to Meredith Geraghty, director of community organizing at NewVue. 

"Just working in that neighborhood I've come across many times of people who don't know each other. They don't know who lives next door," she said. 

"(The goal is to) start creating connection between the residents and starting to make residents feel like this is a good place to live." 

The program also fell in line the nonprofit Growing Places goal of bringing gardening to low and medium income households for the obvious benefit of growing healthy food and the less obvious benefits of creating well-being and getting people outdoors, Geraghty said. 

In total, 41 households participated and many of the experiences were positive. Torres, an Elm Street resident who grew up in Boston, said the challenge was her first try at gardening.

"I love the flowers and veggies," she said. "I laughed that I thought I had a cucumber growing and Matt showed me it was a green bean." 

Crystal Surett updated neighbors on her garden's progress with weekly Facebook post, including moments when the growing process was less than successful. 

"My first tiny zucchini had broken off and [I] was sure no more would grow," she said. 

Within weeks, two more were growing on the vine. 

The competition was started by a team of residents, educators and local leaders who developed the idea after attending NeighborWorks America's Community Leadership Institute. 

The group delivered bags, soil and seeds to residents and offered ongoing gardening tips. 

Competition organizer and leader at Elm Street Community Church Deb Mayo said the competition created a "common bond" between organizations and neighbors. 

"While I know I am not going to save a family from distress with one tomato plant or suddenly find we are super friendly neighbors, ... I can empower them to see that they can succeed in this and lay a foundation for future successes." 

Follow Elizabeth Dobbins on Twitter @DobbinsSentinel

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