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Voices Spring-Summer 2012:
Click on the cover for the Table of Contents. Read the excerpt of “Growing Community in the Courthouse Community Garden” by Annette Nielsen here.
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Volume 38
Spring-Summer
2012
Voices

Growing Community in the Courthouse Community Garden by Annette Nielsen

Currently in its fourth season, the Courthouse Community Garden’s evolution into a community fixture in Salem started more than four years ago from an idea tossed around for at least a couple of years before the seed of the idea took hold.

Salem, New York, is small town in upstate New York, located in Washington County, and just a couple of miles from the Vermont border. Primarily agrarian in makeup, with a population around 2,000, this place is known to house a greater number of cows, sheep, pigs, and chickens than people. The county boasts covered bridges, a span of the famed Batten Kill, and the home of renowned American folk artist Grandma Moses.

Salem’s Courthouse Community Center is located in the historic courthouse built in 1869 by Troy, New York, architect Marcus Cummings. Attached to the courthouse was a jail and kitchen that was used for the jail’s “trustees,” and in 2001, the jail moved to the county seat, with the county vacating the building. Not long after, the town took ownership of the historic structure and a 501(c)(3) was established. Restoration work began as the courtroom was transformed with youth and arts programming; the kitchen space presented an opportunity for adaptive reuse, where volunteers established a space for small scale food processing and individuals could create a product for market in a licensed facility. The kitchen (now officially the Battenkill Kitchen, Inc., or BKI) has also became known as a location for cooking classes and the hive of activity during the annual Al Fresco dinner, a celebration of Salem’s agricultural heritage and the region’s farmers and producers, with a dinner for 400 created entirely from locally-sourced ingredients.

All of the over 300 students, staff, and teachers from Salem Central School in the Courthouse Community Garden on the inaugural Planting
Day on June 5, 2009.
All of the over 300 students, staff, and teachers from Salem Central School in the Courthouse Community Garden on the inaugural Planting Day on June 5, 2009. All photographs are by the author Annette Nielsen.

Through numerous conversations, the idea of a community garden would surface, a complement to the checkerboard hillsides adjacent to the Courthouse Community Center campus. The location would be perfect, it was thought, especially with its proximity to the Battenkill Kitchen—where lessons of planting, growing, harvesting, cooking, and eating, could all take place. In January 2009, a core group spearheaded the effort and reached out to the owners of the farmland near the courthouse, specifically Sheldon Brown, a partner with Woody Hill Farm.

Brown said that the first and most compelling reason for the farm to donate use of the land for the garden project was that he and the other farm partners always wanted to be active members of the community...

As the season progresses, students took product to the Salem Farmers' Market - to learn marketing skills and to see the project as
sustainable - to purchase necessary supplies and tools to keep the garden going into future seasons. Under the tent during the first
couple of weeks at the farmers’ market, students are able to partner with a local grower who gives the students marketing and customer
service tips.
As the season progresses, students took product to the Salem Farmers’ Market—to learn marketing skills and to see the project as sustainable—to purchase necessary supplies and tools to keep the garden going into future seasons. Under the tent during the first couple of weeks at the farmers’ market, students are able to partner with a local grower who gives the students marketing and customer service tips.

The CCG working group included a range of objectives for the 2009 season that included: growing vegetables that would be donated to the local food pantry, providing a business venture for local teens and agriculture students where they could grow and sell at the local farmers’ market (using any season’s profits to roll over into the next season), having the opportunity to teach the science of gardening to include soil testing and the plant cycle, serving as an activity and providing educational opportunities through the Courthouse summer youth programming (Lunch, Learn ‘n’ Play—a free camp for Salem students with extensive educational programming and a nutritious lunch each day), dovetailing with seasonal cooking classes at the Battenkill Kitchen (the shared-use licensed facility for start-up food businesses and culinary education), as well as providing multiple entry points for volunteers to include teaching and tending and also providing opportunities to partner with other community and regional organizations. In the first year, the garden had modest expectations of also being able to provide herbs and flowers for the annual Courthouse Al Fresco dinner, while speaking to broader issues of sustainability in the Salem community...

 










Annette Nielsen is a food writer, speaker at the 2012 New York State Folk Arts Roundtable, and a one-time resident of Salem, Washington County, New York.



Students in the Lunch, Learn 'n' Play program are in the Battenkill Kitchen, Inc., to learn how to prepare lunch with Town Supervisor
Seth Pitts, who instructs the students as they make salsa and handmade pizzas.
Students in the Lunch, Learn ‘n’ Play program are in the Battenkill Kitchen, Inc., to learn how to prepare lunch with Town Supervisor Seth Pitts, who instructs the students as they make salsa and handmade pizzas.




The full article that was excerpted here appeared in Voices Vol. 38, Spring-Summer 2012. Voices is the membership magazine of the New York Folklore Society. To become a subscriber, join the New York Folklore Society today.

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