Community gardening a growing trend

Children at First Light Preschool work in their community garden plot at Thimble Farm. — Photo by Elizabeth Bonificacio

Farms around the Island are offering plenty of opportunities to those in need of more space to garden than one’s backyard will allow. This year for the first time, Thimble Farm includes itself among the list of Island farms with community garden plots available to the public.

Now owned by Island Grown Initiative (IGI), the farm opened its plots in early May after months of garden bed-digging and soil transportation were carried out by farm employees, IGI members, and community volunteers. The gardens span a half-acre across their location off the Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road.

“The community garden is the first step to getting access to land for people who don’t necessarily have enough space at home. It’s also a step towards educating people on how to grow food and to grow for themselves,” said IGI program administrator Emily Duncker. “We want to make sure that Thimble is available to everyone.”

The space has running water and contains handicap accessible beds and plot sizes of 5 by 20 feet, 10 by 20, and 20 by 20. About a dozen of them are currently being used by individuals, families, and groups.

Among the first renters were Thimble Farm greenhouse employee Zach Dowd and garden coordinator Claire Lafaze, who are using their plot to expand their home garden and become acquainted with the Island community.

“I’ve always found that an important part of community building is through the food system,” said Mr. Dowd, who moved to the Island last September.

Mr. Dowd and Ms. Lafaze’s plot contains onions, Ethiopian kale, spinach, and various nightshade plants, among other items. “[The garden] has great access to sunlight, and we’re really starting to see a lot of seeds, new soil, compost, and all sorts of other additives,” said Mr. Dowd of the garden’s progress thus far.

Vineyard Haven resident and Island Grown Gleaning member Carol Collins, who is renting a 10 by 20 plot, hopes that the location of the garden will garner a good onion crop for her family this year. “I wanted a chance to grow things that my home garden didn’t have room for or that required better sun. I never grow good onions,” she said. Ms. Collins plans to make soups, sauces, and stews with her harvest which, in addition to onions, includes tomatoes, potatoes, and beans.

Ms. Collins comes from a long line of gardeners and has until this year grown only from her home. Of her involvement in the community garden, she said, “I really believe in community gardens. I have a yard at home where I can have a garden, but everyone doesn’t have that luxury and I really think it’s important for people, especially kids, to learn about gardening and organic food.”

Other garden members include First Light Child Development Center Preschool. According to the school’s director, Elizabeth Bonifacio, the children, who have worked with Ms. Duncker in past years at a school garden, are ready to move on to “full-on farm life.”

“[We] felt that giving the children gardening experiences at Thimble Farm would broaden their growing knowledge and help them be more active members of their community,” Ms. Bonifacio said.

Throughout the spring the children will take weekly field trips to the farm to learn how to plant and tend to their garden, and the plot will be open to First Light families during the summer. Ms. Bonifacio and the children plan to share their harvest with the community in the fall.

In addition to Thimble Farm, Native Earth Teaching Farm in Chilmark and The FARM Institute in Edgartown each have community garden plots at which members of the Island community can grow alongside one another.

According to Ms. Duncker, until more plots are rented at Thimble, the remaining space will be used to experiment with certain crops and to grow produce for the Island Food Pantry. Anyone interested in renting a space can contact Ms. Duncker at

This story has been updated to reflect a correction: The First Light Preschool Director’s surname is Bonifacio.