- Rachel Hellman
- Lillian Ecklund Gustavson
When Lillian Ecklund Gustavson decided to create a community garden in Montpelier, she envisioned a place near the downtown gazebo on Main Street where locals, especially those experiencing homelessness, could spend time gardening and enjoying the fresh veggies it produced. All that changed in late April when the city council voted to remove the parklet, responding to complaints that the structure drew illicit behavior.
"I think a lot of it was like, 'We don't want to see homelessness,'" Ecklund Gustavson said of the council's decision. "People are afraid of homelessness and are afraid to help."
But the 18-year-old persisted, designing a small raised-bed community garden for the original spot. Earning high school credit for the project as part of a natural resources and sustainability class at the Central Vermont Career Center, she said, "I realized having a garden and growing your own food is a privilege."
Ecklund Gustavson quickly ran into red tape. "I did not realize how painful the process of getting permits would be," she said.
After four months of lobbying city councilors, she got the necessary permit and on May 26 installed the garden, with help from friends.
The Jeremy Silva and Kenny Flood Memorial Garden, named after two members of the Montpelier houseless community who died recently, is in full bloom. There are some promising tomato starts in the five-by-five box plot, and a row of carrot tops is peeking through the ground. Ecklund Gustavson said the garden is a free resource built on trust: Anyone can take from it.
Anyone can help maintain it, too. Ecklund Gustavson, a recent high school grad, is planning a road trip for the fall. By then, she's hoping volunteers will be ready to take up the mantle. She envisions neighbors watering the plot when they pass by or tending to the weeds when they can.
Above all, though, she hopes the plot reminds residents of Montpelier to "think about the people who don't have their own gardens" and consider the potential of unlikely community spaces.