Hidden behind the brick walls of Isham lies a peaceful refuge unknown to most of campus: the Abbot-Phillips Community Garden.
The garden, which began three years ago by two students with an Abbot grant, has had a long history of ups and downs.
The fate of the garden was uncertain even before its construction, when the students lacked equipment to set up the garden. Upon hearing about the project, Elizabeth Poland, Instructor in French, took over the construction and management of the garden, choosing its present location and organizing its construction with the help of alumni and volunteers.
After its completion, the garden enjoyed three years of success. The garden was able to produce over 250 pounds of food in its first year. Following its inaugural year, Poland and other garden participants made the decision to expand the garden’s focus.
In its second and third years, produce grown in the garden was donated to the Merrimack Valley Food Bank in Lowell, Massachusetts, a bank that distributes food to over 90 different shelters and kitchens in the Merrimack Valley.
“We wanted a greater cause, which was essentially what we were looking for, and that was incredibly successful. [The Merrimack Valley Food Bank] was very grateful,” said Poland.
To help plant and harvest in the garden during the months of May through October, Poland enlisted the help of student summer interns, along with student groups on campus.
“We had a lot of student volunteers, Praxis [Community Service as a Sport] groups and more. Even Aggie Kip’s yoga students participated. Community-service groups separate from Praxis helped prepare the garden. During the summer months, when most people weren’t here, we had sustainability interns working in the garden, harvesting, replanting for a second harvest,” said Poland.
This year, the garden ran into its second obstacle to success. After the Abbot grant seed money to begin the garden ran out, the garden had been operating with the Class of 1959’s fund, a fund designed to further environmental causes and projects on campus. In early 2014, however, this money was redirected away from the garden.
“Now we are unfunded. And even though I have a ‘Non Sibi’ project in the garden preparing the beds for this season, I have no money, at all,” said Poland in an interview with The Phillipian on April 15.
Desperate for funding to pay for the upcoming growing season, Poland searched through campus for a class or project which would have use for the garden.
“I’ve shopped around for a department that might, like biology, community service — anybody who would take this on — with no luck. There’s definitely interest, there’s a lot of interest, there’s just not the ability to say ‘yes, we’ll take on your budget,’” said Poland during her April 15 interview.
She believes that the largest problem inhibiting funding was a lack of knowledge about the garden.
“You can’t really see it very well, even from the road there, which is an issue, in that people don’t know it’s there,” Poland said.
“A lot of prep schools have gardens; a lot of them even have farms. We’ve got one right here; I don’t want to see it die. I want it to develop, because we’ve put a lot of effort into it and really the hard part is over — we’ve created the garden; we’ve put up the fence. We just need to put some seeds into the ground and get some people working in it,” continued Poland.
“It’s too bad that more people don’t know about the garden because it’s pretty cool that we are growing fresh fruit and vegetables on campus (there is a blueberry patch too),” wrote Willa Tellekson-Flash ’14, summer intern in the garden, in an email to The Phillipian.
Working with Debra Shepard, Director of Sustainability, Poland finally found a solution. On May 7, they opened up the garden’s soil to faculty and staff interested in gardening for the 2014 summer.
“We wanted to incorporate the garden into the greater [Andover] community….When the garden only served the outside community (via the food bank donations), we found that many students, faculty and staff had little awareness of the garden on campus. We aim to correct that by involving more groups on and off campus,” said Poland in an email to The Phillipian.
As of Friday, May 16, 12 applicants had responded. Assigned via a lottery system, faculty and staff who receive a plot will gain the ability to plant any annual, non self-seeding, plant that is appropriate for the space on an 8’ by 4’ piece of land in the garden.
“I’m excited that we got as many responses as we did. It sounds like, from their applications, that they were really excited to have this opportunity,” said Shepard.
Half of the garden will be portioned for the faculty and staff that receive plots, and the rest will be left for food bank plantings. Faculty and staff receiving land have either already begun to plant or will begin to plant this coming week, and members of Eco-Action will begin to plant the food bank section in their planting party event this Saturday.
“We plan to plant potatoes, tomatoes, squash, basil, lettuce, eggplants and peppers in the food bank garden. I expect to donate at least 150 pounds of produce this season,” wrote Poland in an email to The Phillipian.
Furthermore, day students were invited to work for 10-30 hours over the summer to fulfill their work duty requirements. So far, six out of the needed 15 students have responded.