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Norwich rallies together to grow gardens as part of COVID-19 response

  • Jacqueline Springwater, of Norwich, Vt., moves soil delivered to her home one bucket at a time on May 15, 2020. Springwater, 86, is growing a garden this summer for the first time because travel is limited due to the coronavirus pandemic. Springwater will be growing herbs and greens for dishes she likes to cook. "I'm not only prepping my garden, but also prepping my body," she said of the workout required for gardening. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to

  • Eli Hersh, co-owner of Honey Field Farm in Norwich, Vt., delivers an array of plants for Melissa Scanlan's victory garden in Norwich on May 14, 2020. Over 100 families have signed up to grow small garden plots in their yards, following the governor's recommendation to stay close to home during the coronavirus pandemic. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to

  • While her four chickens watch from their movable pen in the front yard, Melissa Scanlan arranges herbs and hardier vegetables to be planted in her victory garden in Norwich, Vt., on May 14, 2020. Scanlan had the idea to encourage Norwichites to grow food at home in small plots during the coronavirus pandemic. So far, over 100 families have signed up. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 5/18/2020 8:53:23 PM
Modified: 5/18/2020 8:53:19 PM

NORWICH — Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, a new hobby is taking root for Jacqueline Springwater.

The 86-year-old retired arts consultant is one of at least 100 Norwich residents to join a town-wide effort to plant “victory gardens” this year.

As she spoke by phone last Thursday, she was preparing to fill her new raised bed with a recent delivery of topsoil and gearing up to don her new gardening hat and gloves from Gardener’s Supply.

“I’m playing garden,” she said. “The reality of playing in the dirt is ahead of me. The anticipation is so much fun. It’s a new adventure at an advanced age.”

Springwater is one of many people around the country who are taking up gardening for the first time this year, or whose interest in growing food has been deepened by the pandemic.

For some, it offers a route to greater food security. For others, it’s a chance to give back to their community by donating food to a food shelf. Some families are taking it up as part of their new venture in homeschooling. For many, the act of growing things feels optimistic.

“It’s a bright spot in a challenging time,” Springwater said.

The Norwich effort stems from the town’s neighborhood program, which led by Dan & Whit’s owner Dan Fraser has divided the town into sections, each with a captain, to check in on each other during the pandemic.

In volunteering for that effort, Norwich resident Melissa Scanlan noticed that many of her neighbors already had raised beds. As she created a Google form for the neighborhood program, she put in a question to gauge people’s interest in growing food to share with their neighbors and got a “big response.”

Since then volunteers have arranged a bulk delivery of topsoil, a volunteer carpenter designed and built raised beds, a local farm is offering a discount on seedlings and experienced gardeners are offering advice to newbees like Springwater. Dan & Whit’s is managing a donation program for the topsoil and raised beds. It costs $105 per raised bed and enough soil to fill it. Additional funds are going to help those for whom the cost is too great.

Scanlan, who is a visiting professor of law at Boston College, had some free time to devote to the project once courses went online and she no longer had to commute to teach in Boston. She said the effort was possible because of all the volunteers who stepped up to help.

“You can accomplish so much if you don’t worry about who gets credit,” she said.

While some of the Norwich effort’s participants are growing for themselves, others are planting enough to share with the Norwich-based nonprofit Willing Hands through the group’s “Grow a Row” program where growers donate extra produce to those in need.

Concerns about food security were on Sarah Crockett’s mind soon after COVID-19 hit the Upper Valley in early March. An emergency medicine physician at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, Crockett said she supported the stay at home order, but she knew it would have economic consequences for many.

As Crockett and her husband, who is a critical care surgeon also at DHMC, work on the front lines and homeschool their four children ranging in age from 2 to 12, Crockett said they felt fortunate not to be facing economic uncertainty.

“My heart goes out to the families that don’t have that security,” she said.

She posted a message to the Lyme Listserv urging her neighbors to join what she called “Gardens for Good.”

“I have a daydream of seeing our Lyme community and surrounding neighbors put extra effort into our gardens and orchards this year with the goal to donate any extra produce to local food pantries,” she wrote in her post. “I envision something like the WWII victory garden campaign to address the kind of economic struggles we all anticipate.”

She urged neighbors to donate excess produce to Willing Hands and a Lyme-based effort called the VegiCare program, through which volunteers deliver donated produce to those in need.

Crockett’s own gardening ambitions for the season, which included tilling an acre of land the family recently bought in Orford, were thwarted when she broke her foot recently. She still plans to participate in the “Grow a Row” program though. Despite her broken foot, Crockett said she found joy in a weeding session in her strawberry patch last weekend with a friend.

“We talked about kids and families and quarantine all while keeping our social distance at six feet apart,” Crockett said. “It was one of the most uplifting activities I’ve done since becoming so distanced from my friends.”

Woodstock gardeners Anne Macksoud and Anne Dean are offering gardening tips through email, Zoom and the website of their church, the North Universalist Chapel Society. Both women for years have been encouraging their neighbors to convert their lawns to gardens as part of a way to address climate change, but they have increased their efforts now.

They held their first Zoom session last Thursday and Macksoud said it was “fun to meet the people who are doing it. It feels like a community builder as well.”

Several of the questions they’ve been fielding have come from people who haven’t gardened before, or haven’t done so in the Upper Valley.

Due to the increased demand on food pantries, Dean said she is expanding her garden this year. She expects to grow extra kale, Swiss chard and spinach to take to the Woodstock Community Food Shelf.

“Now more than ever they need that,” Dean said.

People experiencing food insecurity during this time have also been getting in on the gardening craze. The Vermont Foodbank has distributed 1,000 packets of mixed seeds donated by Wolcott, Vt.-based High Mowing Seeds through its VeggieVanGo program this spring.

“People were really happy to have them,” said Foodbank spokeswoman Nicole Whalen.

Demand was up 500% at High Mowing Seeds this spring, said the company’s founder Tom Stearns. As a result, the company had to hire a slew of temporary workers and change the way it runs its donation program, Stearns said.

While the company usually donates up to 200,000 packets of seeds worldwide each year, this year the company donated 100,000 packets in Vermont alone. Because the company’s workers were too busy with regular orders, Stearns turned to organizations such as the Foodbank and the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont to help get seeds to people in need.

Hartford Village resident Kendra Colburn is among those who requested and received a shipment of donated seeds through NOFA this spring. The seeds and the seedlings they’ve become will soon be going into new raised beds that Colburn and five or six of her Hartford Village neighbors are using to grow a new neighborhood garden.

Their goal is to “grow food that everybody can have,” she said.

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at or 603-727-3213.

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