Ten years ago, Harrisville’s Deirdre Oliver completed the 12-week course of instruction in the N.H. Master Gardener Program, a volunteer training program of the University of New Hampshire. Yet one requirement remained: a community project allowing her to share her knowledge, experience and enthusiasm with others. Fortunately for dozens of Harrisville residents, Oliver chose to establish a community garden.
She found an ideal location — a sunny, open field at the edge of Harrisville village — and received permission from the landowner, Historic Harrisville, Inc., a nonprofit public foundation. “My goal was to get 12 people,” Oliver remembers, but the response exceeded her expectations, and 20 individual plots were laid out that first year.
Still, such a venture does not happen without foresight, money and labor. The Harrisville Community Fund and the UNH Extension Service granted start-up money, and Historic Harrisville provided rent-free mill space for a fundraising Black Fly Ball attended by many who contra danced for fun, but in support of a grand purpose.
Many Harrisville residents helped the project succeed. When the garden site needed an initial plowing, Jay Jacobs arrived with his tractor. David Kennard designed an electric critter fence for the garden perimeter, selling it at cost. Craig Thompson delivered manure and hay from Mayfair Farm.
Providing a ready water supply was a major challenge. Initially, neighbors Heri and Solveig Tryba, and Joan Miller allowed gardeners to fill their watering cans. The Harrisville Fire Department brought a temporary water tank, loading it with water pumped from a local stream. But when those measures proved inadequate, Bob’s Wash Well had the perfect solution: a 12-foot-deep, gravel-filled hole to collect rainwater that fed two hand pumps strategically placed inside the garden.
Meanwhile, the first-year gardeners began to dig, and the clinking sound of shovels hitting rocks could be heard in the neighborhood. The discarded stones, some boulder sized, became a “stone mountain” near the new driveway. But as Oliver foresaw, the soil itself showed promise for fruits, herbs, vegetables and flowers.
When the gardeners needed a shed to house tools, a fortuitous solution developed. Rex Baker, having just removed two giant pine trees on Main Street, donated the logs to the community garden, and Jeff Trudelle milled them into board lumber. The following year, when the wood was sufficiently seasoned, architect Tom Weller designed the perfect shed and helped construct it with Scott Oliver, Les LaMois and Doug Walker.
The size of the garden, currently expanded to 46 plots, accommodates new people who enjoy growing their own food. Participants gather for scheduled workdays to mow and rake the site. And, each week, Beth Healy coordinates the sharing of surplus vegetables with families in need, via the Community Church of Harrisville and Chesham.
Two years into the project, the happy gardeners began staging an annual end-of-summer potluck along the grass fairways between rows of plots, as they did on Sunday, Aug. 25.
The Harrisville Community Garden, now ten years in operation, illustrates a community project at its best. “The garden,” says Deirdre Oliver, “took on a life of its own. I only provided the spark.”
Jeannie Eastman is one of the community gardeners in Harrisville.