Green thumbs gather in Leominster, gird themselves for growing season

By Michael Hartwell
Sentinel & Enterprise

resized_DSCN4873LEOMINSTER — The Doyle Center gave more than 100 gardeners refuge from the cold winter on Saturday and a chance to prepare for the rich, warm spring ahead.

The third-annual Gardeners Gathering workshop event was put on by The Trustees of Reservations and the Growing Places Garden Project, which helps impoverished people grow their own food. It had workshops for gardeners, such as organic pest management and maintaining healthy garden soil, along with a seed swap.

In attendance was Bob Mersereau, the volunteer in charge of the youth garden project at the Boys & Girls Club of North Central Massachusetts. That project is in collaboration with the Trustees of Reservations and Growing Places and provides garden space for middle-school and high-school youths in the area who have never gardened before.

“There’s this whole new world opening up to them,” said Mersereau. He said the kids tend to be from urban environments and they experience a bit of culture shock when they help participate in the growing of food.

About 35 youths participate in the program, and they have 21 different raised-bed plots to work with in the community garden. The youths work in teams on their own plots. Most grow vegetables, but Mersereau said there are a few flowers in there as well. He said they get plenty of fresh air, teamwork experience, healthy-eating opportunities and a chance to contribute to their family’s welfare by bringing home the food they grew.

He said their enthusiasm for what they grow sometimes makes that last part difficult.

“The problem I have is getting that carrot home,” he said. “They tend to eat it on the spot.” He grows some vegetables himself to make sure there’s plenty for the youths to bring home.

Carrie Novak, of Templeton, is a home gardener. She said she enjoyed the workshops when she attended last year and wanted more. She’s looking forward to using what she learned at the seed-saving workshop, which will allow her to plant the next generation of her garden by using the seeds of what she grows this year.

She said there’s a lot of variety in seeds, even from a single brand.

“You know what you’re getting, you know it will work in your climate,” she said.

Sheryl Vaillette, of Westminster, also came for the workshops. She is one of three co-founders of the Massachusetts Local Food Cooperative, which she likened to an online farmers market.

Customers buy a $50 refundable membership. Each month Massachusetts farmers, mostly in the center of the state, will list what they have for sale. Members can then choose to buy as little or as much as they like and when it’s ready, the food will be bundled and available for them to pick up at one of the 10 pick-up sites.