RUSSELL – It’s still early in the planting season for the Countryside Community Garden on Route 20 in Russell. An educational outreach of the Friends of SHAEC (Southern Hilltowns Adult Education Center), the community garden is in its third year, thanks to a generous donation of land use by Ron Hess, owner of Countryside Woodcraft next door.
“That’s why we named it Countryside Community Garden,” said Michele Kenney, program director for SHAEC. Kenney said there are 36 plots in the garden being farmed by residents from Russell, Huntington, Chester, Middlefield, and one from Westfield. Some share plots, some are family plots, she said.
Kenney said the garden is a community effort, with no real funding but a lot of networking and generosity behind it. Plots cost $20 to rent, and this year included seeds donated by High Mowing Organic Seeds of Wolcott, Vermont. Kenney said members use all organic practices in the garden.
Nelson Oaks, 74 of Chester, came last week and tilled fourteen of the plots for members. He’s going to do a few more on Wednesday, Kenney said.
The focus of SHAEC is on adult basic education and computer literacy, but has also grown to include classes in sustainability. At the community garden, classes to support home gardening have included such topics as building a hoop house greenhouse, identification of garden insects, building a compost pile, permaculture, and companion planting. Some of the classes have been taught by AmeriCorps volunteers in conjunction with the Hilltown Land Trust.
Other classes encourage the preservation of garden produce, such as pickling and canning. More recently, thanks to community volunteers, SHAEC has offered classes in home cheese making, raising sheep, utilizing wool, and other sustainable farming classes.
This year, flax seeds were donated to the Countryside Community Garden as part of an effort by SHAEC teacher Lisa Westervelt, who raises sheep in Cummington, to start a Massachusetts Fibershed in the area. Linen fibers come from the flax plant. Laurie Mikalunas of the United Bank in Huntington, who has an interest in the Fibershed has volunteered to keep an eye on the flowers.
Another gardener, Ken Conway, is working to preserve heirloom varieties of Andean root vegetables in his plot.
On Monday, Bryan Farr, Executive Director of Historic Route 20 and a member of the Jacob Ladder’s Business Association, said he will be growing heirloom tomatoes, beans, cucumbers for pickling, and peppers on his 1 ½ plots.
“We do a lot of canning,” Farr said. He said his house on a hillside in Chester has too many trees to grow plants requiring full sun.
Also planting his well-manicured plot was Olan Horne of Huntington. Horne, who moved into an apartment two years ago after having surgery, said he has been gardening all his life.
“Without this, I would never have had access to a garden this year. For me, it’s more than planting a few plants,” Horne said.
Although the plots are all taken this year, gardening class offerings are free and open to the public. This Friday, Billy Crawford of New England Apiaries, who keeps bees in the rear of the garden, will offer a beekeeping class from 7 to 9 p.m. in the SHAEC classroom, Room 152, at Gateway Regional High School.
Class offerings are updated monthly on the website at www.SHAEC.org or on Facebook at Southern Hilltowns Aec.