Inspire. Demonstrate. Learn. Build Community
By Lauren Elliott, Community Garden Manager and Master Gardener
Since our founding in October 2015, our Community Garden has played an important role in inspiring visitors to explore and learn about organic gardening, from soil preparation to planting for pollinators to increasing harvest yields. Our 1,450-square-foot garden, surrounded by 77 acres of natural preserves, fosters community, discovery, and also provides fresh produce for our Commons and our food relief efforts. In this new series, we’ll take you through a year-long and exciting exploration of gardening with sustainable principals used in our Community Garden and throughout Grace Farms. (Feature image: James Florio)
Our Community Garden (above) offers visitors an opportunity to learn about how to grow vegetables and native flowers to support our bees and other important pollinators. These pollinators are essential to food production. “It’s estimated one out of every three bites of food we eat exists because of animal pollinaotrs like bees, butterflies, moths, birds, beetles and other insects … Many plants cannot reproduce without pollen carried to them by foraging pollinators.”  Grace Farms maintains an apiary onsite, where I help care for thousands of Italian honey bees that pollinate our crops. The garden is also meant to inspire and build community around the common goal of being good land stewards. Photo credit: Dean Kaufman
Earth Equity and Design for Freedom Forum
While our programing offers visitors hands-on experience in sustainable and organic gardening, including three-bin composting, vermiculture (wormery), and the use of rain barrels to collect water, Grace Farms also convenes renowned experts to address national and global issues. On May 26, we’ll be convening experts focused on the collective response required to confront the climate and biodiversity crisis. Among the featured speakers and panelists at the Earth Equity and Design for Freedom Forum are Edwina von Gal, Principal and Founder of the Perfect Earth Project, Rebecca McMackin, Director of Horticulture for the Brooklyn Bridge Park, and Penn Marchael, Founder of Pennington Grey. The Keynote is Karenna Gore, Founder and Executive Director of the Center for Earth Ethics at Union Theological Seminary in New York.
The full-day event is designed to raise awareness about climate change and biodiversity, as well as provide landscape architects, designers, conservationists, gardeners, and the public with the knowledge and tools to create biodiverse native landscapes. The Forum will also emphasize the importance of using sustainable materials free of enslaved labor. Even among industry professionals, the use of forced labor in the manufacturing of raw and composite landscape materials tends to be widely unknown.
Building community | Addressing food insecurity
While our garden invites the community to learn and inspires them to become good environmental stewards, the Community Garden is also used for food relief. Since our founding, we have provided a portion of our harvest to our non-for-profit partners to distribute to the community. During the COVID-19 crisis in 2020 and most of 2021, we dedicated 100% of our produce for food relief.
During this time, the Community Initiative partnered with 12 not-for-profits including Person-to-Person, Food Rescue US, and the Domestic Violence Crisis Center to distribute fresh food and staples to those in need in Fairfield County. The day-to-day operations of our food relief initiative, managed by Chef Neena Perez, resulted in the donation of more than 168,000 pounds of healthy food to over 67,000 families and individuals in 2020 alone. In addition to preparing wholesome meals, we take into account cultural and food sensitivities.
Inspire | Against the Grain series
As we witnessed the soaring food insecurity during the pandemic, which has been exasperated by global supply-chain issues, our Community Initiative wanted to raise awareness about organizations working on innovative strategies to address food insecurity. This led to our Against the Grain series, hosted by Karen Kariuki, our Community Initiative Director, which features organizations such as The Rockefeller Foundation, Stone Barns, FEED Projects, and Soul Fire Farms.
Demonstrate & learn | Get ready to plant
In addition to the Design for Freedom Earth Equity Landscapes Forum, we have an exciting and informative line up of events through the season. Here are a few highlights:
May 14, 21, 28: Young Gardener Series will explore the senses through experiential learning during this five-part series. Young gardeners (ages 8–13) and their families will spend time planting, exploring our Community Garden, creating nature collages, and contemplating their connection to the earth. This multi-sensory approach connects families to the natural world and invites them to think deeper about how a garden can grow more than plants.
May 21: Growing Your Organic Home Garden | Instructional Outdoor Planting will teach participants how to cultivate their own gardens and come away with a sense of stewardship for our environment and an understanding of how we can all contribute to the well-being of our communities. This hands-on class, held in Grace Farms’ Community Garden, will teach proper spacing and outdoor planting techniques.
June 4: Meet the Grace Farms Bees and enter the world of backyard beekeeping with Master Gardener Lauren Elliott, who will share her experience tending the two beehives in our Community Garden. Learn why bees are crucial to the health of our planet, and the ways in which we can care for a hive or protect their natural environment.
To register for our Community Garden classes and series, as well as other Grace Farms events, visit our events and registration. Sign up for our newsletter to stay abreast of all our news and initiative activities and events.