This summer, 120 gardeners of all levels — including 49 youngsters from a nearby Head Start program — turned a soggy piece of land in Ossining into a thriving community garden.
This slice of property in Cedar Lane Park is one of many community gardens that have taken root across Westchester in the past couple of years. These public growing spaces are gifts to the greater community. They give people who don’t have the space at home a chance to grow food for their families and also learn the ins and outs — and joys — of gardening.
And though communal, these gardens offer quiet, thoughtful sanctuaries away from all the gadgets that run our lives. They’re old-fashioned places where we can get our hands dirty alongside our neighbors and feel good about the tasks at hand.
In Ossining, the community garden also has a distinct intergenerational feel.
“We’ve got 3-year-olds running around and people up to 80 years old in the garden,” says Donna Sharrett, who oversees the 50-plot Ossining Organic Community Garden on a volunteer basis. Most of the gardeners live in nearby apartments or condos.
“Last year, people’s crops basically drowned,” she says. So over the winter, Sharrett designed a whole new garden to add raised beds and improve drainage. She also added beds with full wheelchair accessibility.
What do these Ossining gardeners get out of the experience? See for yourself.
Why I’m here: Fienemann, 80, has had Parkinson’s disease for 10 years, and he alternates between using a cane and a wheelchair. “Bending over is a job and then when I kneel I have trouble getting up,” he says. Because of the wheelchair-accessible raised beds Sharrett included in her winter redesign of the community garden, Fienemann was able to continue growing this summer.
(photos by Xavier Mascareñas)
“The raised beds — not having to bend over to plant something — have been a godsend.”
Learning curve: Fienemann has been gardening most of his life. “I grew up in Connecticut and my family always had a garden — and it was a fairly large garden.”
What I’m growing: Fernleaf lavender, sweet peppers, tricolor sage, blueberries (he got one berry), cucumbers (“they’ve been amazing”), squash, tomatoes, beans, orange and red nasturtiums (“to give the bed some interest”). In late August, he started a second crop of radishes and lettuce.
Next year: “Not so much squash,” he says, tipping his cane toward a big sea of green leaves and a few bright yellow squash blossoms. And more tomatoes, perhaps. “There’s nothing better than ground-grown tomatoes.”
Why I’m here: “It’s so relaxing to come out here when you have all sorts of stuff in your head,” Yedowitz says. “It takes you away from all the daily mind junk that builds up.”
Learning curve: “I’m learning by trial and error — I’m a newbie. This is the first time I’ve ever tried to have a garden.” But it probably helps that her father-in-law is Bob Yedowitz, the third-generation owner of Emil Yedowitz Sons Inc., the popular nursery in Yonkers and the gardening correspondent for News 12.
What I’m growing: Beefsteak and Sweet 100 tomatoes, beets (“my mother-in-law loves them”), orange and blood-red marigolds, cucumbers (“so many that I’m sending them to work with my husband to give away”), basil, chives, sage, rosemary, Cubanelle peppers.
Next year: She plans to add butternut squash and heirloom tomatoes — “I love the dark purply ones.”
Why I’m here: Lee lives in a nearby apartment with a terrace and lots of planted plants, but she wanted a real garden. Two years ago, she founded a nonprofit called Earth to City (www.earthtocity.org), which provides five-day immersion programs for city dwellers in simple farming communities in Ecuador.
Learning curve: Though last year she was a newbie, Lee has proven to be a very fast learner. “I weaseled my way in and took over a weedy plot,” she says. Trying to grow corn in a small space is very ambitious, and her tomatoes look fantastic.
What I’m growing: Strawberries (they were still producing in late August), beets, broccoli (as a fall crop, in a spot where cilantro grew earlier in the summer), tomatoes, carrots, bush beans, one watermelon, corn (“I harvested it too late and ended up just making corn soup.” ) The rest will probably go into cornbread.
Next year: “I want to cut down on the amount of things and add more variety and less of each thing,” she says. Definitely beets, strawberries and beans again. Carrots? Probably not. “I don’t mind buying them at the supermarket and I’ll probably go back to that.”
Why I’m here: “I’ve got two new baby deer — I had three last year — and lots of shade,” she says, so it didn’t make sense to try to grow vegetables in her yard. She shares her plot with a friend, Beth Howard. Sharrett’s husband, Ken Kamber, also has a plot he shares with his friend Richard Eaton.
“Oh no, it’s not the least bit competitive,” Sharrett says with a laugh.
Sharrett, an accomplished mixed-media artist who works with lots of interesting materials (www.donnasharrett.com), gets bonus points for style and design — handmade wooden trellises, a tapestry of textures and shapes, and interesting little pathways and knots of cool color combinations.
Her plot is among the most handsome in the whole garden, even in late summer when most vegetable gardens begin to look ragged. “People say my garden looks like my artwork — let’s just say I don’t garden in straight rows.”
Learning curve: “I’ve gardened my whole life — and my father was raised on a farm,” says Sharrett, who is also a newly certified master gardener. “I’ve learned so much in the community garden, which proves you can always learn more about gardening.”
What I’m growing: Three kinds of tomatoes (‘Blondkopfchen,’ ‘Black Krim’ and ‘Kellogg’s Breakfast,’ which have been “unbelievable”), lemongrass, Thai curry leaf, epazote (a Mexican herb she has passed along to other gardeners), turnips, horseradish, eggplant, several kinds of basil, Malabar spinach, red Russian kale (“it’s been nonstop”), Swiss chard, Russian sage, edible marigolds, lettuces.
Next year: “I want to try fewer things — I grew a lot this year.” She’s also got seeds of extra-long Chinese green beans she’s itching to try.
Information: Ossining residents who want to participate next year should call the Joseph G. Caputo Community Center at 914-941-3189.