Camille Sasinowski looked completely at peace snipping suckers off her tomato plants and patiently securing wayward stems to bamboo poles.
“It’s an Eden for me, to say the least,” the Schenectady resident declared as she surveyed the Steinmetz Park Community Garden, a 4,000-square-foot plot that basks in the sun at the intersection of Lenox Avenue and Hendrickson Street, across from cattail-laced Steinmetz Lake.
The garden came about thanks to a collaboration between Capital District Community Gardens, the city of Schenectady and the Goose Hill Neighborhood Association. The project, funded by a grant from the New York State Department of Health’s Healthy Heart Program, got off the ground in early March.
It’s hard to imagine that last summer this thriving patch grew nothing more than grass. Each of the garden’s 15 cordoned-off plots is overflowing with produce fed by 80 cubic yards of composted manure. The corn stands tall and tassled, the watermelon vines wink with yellow flowers, the pole beans twist high and the fennel stretches feathery plumes up from the fertile soil.
The garden is protected by a tall, black, galvanized chain-link fence
sunk about 2 feet below ground level to ward off enterprising woodchucks. The fence is kept padlocked when the garden is unoccupied, to ward off larger produce-snatchers.
Sharon DiLorenzo, program manager for Capital District Community Gardens, said she searched for a garden plot in Goose Hill for years. When the city offered the park as a possible site, things just fell into place.
Sasinowski, who heads the Goose Hill Neighborhood Association, alerted local residents that plots would be offered to the public for $30 a season and there was an enthusiastic response.
“She put out the word, and we filled this up in 10 seconds,” DiLorenzo said.
In the back right corner of the garden, Rita Bartlett of Schenectady bent low, basket in hand, rummaging through the large, dark green leaves on her zucchini plant in search of slender squash.
“I’m a summer unemployed teacher looking for a contract, so this is my income,” she said, pointing out her Sun Gold cherry tomato plants, a row of petite cabbages and a patchwork of bushy herbs.
“I’ve been able to share with my family members and congregation members, so that makes me happy.”
Bartlett and Sasinowski have had home gardens in the past, but many of those tending plots in the community garden are first-timers, Sasinowski noted. Tending vegetables alongside experienced gardeners offers an opportunity for neophytes to learn from those who have worked the land for years.
“A garden is, to me, kind of like a book — you start reading and you learn something. And you’re never through learning in a garden, no matter how good of a gardener you are,” Sasinowski said.
The Steinmetz Park plot is the 48th community garden Capital District Community Gardens has helped to create. The organization also sponsors a Veggie Mobile that delivers fresh produce to urban neighborhoods, a Healthy Convenience Store Initiative that makes produce available in urban convenience stores, a Squash Hunger program that provides produce to food pantries and soup kitchens, and several other programs.