April 02, 2014

Montauk Community Garden: Fertile Ground For Support And Students

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It's a blooming success. Blooming figuratively for now, but it won't be long before the beds at the Montauk Community Garden begin to burst with color and fragrance, flowers, vegetables and herbs . . . and all for a good cause.

Bill Becker is among the group of volunteers who till the soil in plots at the corner of South Edison Street designed by renowned local landscaper Greg Donohue. This week the two ardent gardeners offered a history of the community garden.

About five years ago a group of local residents hoped to plant a community garden on the grounds of the St. Therese Catholic School. Donohue was prevailed upon to craft a conceptual design of the garden, and created a plot corralled by what he calls a "visually attractive homespun fence of cedar and bamboo."

Parish Pastor Mike Rieder gave the green light for the community garden, with one proviso. "All the profits from everything are donated to the Montauk Food Pantry," Becker explained.

The garden has enjoyed "big support since day one," Becker continued. Donohue, who Becker calls "our gardening guru," designed a 30 x 30 plot to get things started.

But, he joked, "all the while I'm corrupting Father Mike and giving him fresh vegetables."

Soon another idea blossomed and a flower garden was planted on the northern section of the property. Volunteers sold bouquets, with, again, all the proceeds going to the Montauk Food Pantry.

Support from the community surged. Becker listed the founders of Amber Waves Farm in Amagansett, Amanda Merrow and Katie Baldwin, as well as Jane Lappin from Wainscot Farms as generous donors of such start-up staples as seedlings, flats, and bulbs. Becker and Donohue also pointed to Dave Marcley from Dave's Grill as an example of community symbiosis. Marcley uses bouquets from the community garden in his restaurant and in turn donates food to the pantry. And, of course, Donohue donates his time, as does Becker.

After its first year, the community garden was able to give $1000 to the food pantry. Year two the donation doubled and by year three it was up to $3000. Last year, the garden donated $3000 to the food pantry and another $1500 to Meals on Wheels. "They've been very, very good for us; they do great for us," pantry founder Fran Ecker enthused. "It's a win, win."

The bounty doesn't end with checks to the pantry. Innumerable individuals benefit, too. The garden is "totally organic," Becker explained and volunteers are most often people who've never pulled a weed or planted a seedling before. They see the work going on, try their hand and are soon hooked, Becker reported. "Anyone who wants to learn to garden can come and we'll show them," he said.

That includes kids. The plots have served as educational tools for area school children, as well as special projects for scouts. One local boy on his way to becoming an Eagle Scout is working on a raised herb garden plan for this season.

Going into its fifth year, "now we have something working," Donohue said. While the volunteer ranks change as people come and go, he spoke of "the great people who show up" and "beautiful women" he gets to meet on Saturdays at the garden.

Would-be tillers can purchase annual memberships in the garden and receive discounts on their vegetables and flowers. But member or not, anyone is welcome to take a turn weeding. "The hardest thing about organic gardening is the weeding," Becker reminded. "People come in and we love to have the help."

This Friday night, supporters have a chance to help without messing up their manicures. A benefit for the community garden will be held at ENE on Edgemere Street beginning at 8 PM. Tickets are $20 in advance and $25 at the door. There will be a cash bar, passed hors d'oeuvres, raffles, and live music by Lost Time.


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