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What you need to know for 01/18/2018

Community garden grows in Schenectady's Vale Cemetery

Community garden grows in Schenectady's Vale Cemetery

A garden plot in Vale Cemetery has been transformed into a community-supported agriculture operation
Community garden grows in Schenectady's Vale Cemetery
Vale Urban Farm coordinator Cathy Winter explains the cemetery-based garden's new operating method. In exchange for garden work, members receive a share of what grows there.

A garden plot in Vale Cemetery has been transformed into a community-supported agriculture operation that will provide harvest shares in exchange for garden work.

The Vale Urban Farm has an operating model that is likely the first of its kind, said Cathy Winter, its coordinator.

People who join the endeavor are asked to contribute eight hours of garden work a month in exchange for a percentage of what’s grown.

Ten-by-ten-foot community garden plots, where members can grow their own food, are also available in exchange for two hours of volunteer work a month in the large CSA garden. Last year, everything the volunteer-tended garden produced was donated to the Schenectady Day Nursery and the City Mission’s meal program.

The Urban Farm’s entire operation takes up about two-thirds of an acre not far from the Brandywine Avenue entrance to the cemetery. Included in that space are 20 community garden plots and the CSA garden.

Seven of the 15 CSA shares are still available, as well as 10 of the garden plots.

Organizers are waiting to see how many people sign up for the CSA before they finalize how much to plant, but already there are sugar snap pea plants climbing a net trellis and radishes ready for picking. Also growing is swiss chard, six different varieties of lettuce, broccoli, cabbage, spinach, arugula and a few tomato plants.

Waiting to go in the ground are about 200 more tomato plants, 100 more cabbage plants, 150 collard plants and 100 pepper plants.

Organizers said they plan to use organic growing methods whenever possible.

The garden relies solely on volunteers and donations.

The goal for the endeavor is not just to grow vegetables but to create camaraderie, said volunteer John Watrous. He predicted that the garden will provide “a means and a place and a reason for people in the immediate neighborhood to get together and get to know each other and have a common goal.”

Several people from neighborhoods surrounding the cemetery have already signed up to participate. Hassim Ali and his wife, Mohani, are two of them.

“We love gardening. As kids we were rice farmers in Guyana,” said Hassim Ali.

The couple have tried to garden in their yard but squirrels have sabotaged their efforts. They said they are hopeful that their plot in the cemetery will be more successful.

“This would be nice for the grandkids to come and learn how to plant,” Mohani Ali added.

An unfenced garden in a public space could be a magnet for vandals and thieves, but Winter said there were only minor problems last year. She predicted that this will be a more trouble-free growing season, thanks to the way the garden now operates.

“It has to be something that belongs to the people who live around here, who care about it and have a personal investment in it, because if it’s just nice people coming in and doing volunteer work and giving food to somebody else, why should they care? I think it’s the difference between doing for somebody and doing something with somebody,” she said.

Bernard McEvoy, vice president of the Vale Cemetery Association pointed out video cameras mounted near the garden.

“It’s very safe. You’re under video surveillance and you can’t move around that we can’t see you, and the police come through,” he said.

Volunteer Paro Datt, who is growing vegetables in one of the garden plots this season, said she finds the location peaceful. “You come over here and occupy your mind in gardening, walk around the cemetery,” she said. “You just open up your mind and the stress just vanishes away.”

The deadline for participants to register is Thursday. For more information, visit or call 477-3890.

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