A growing sense of place

  • ">

    Al Pristaw, right, shows his neighbor Hunter Putnam, 9, how to check for moisture in the soil before watering at a raised bed in his yard at Riverside Mobile Home Park in Woodstock, Vt., on Tuesday, June 21, 2022. "Quite a few years ago we noticed that nobody was talking to anybody else," said Pristaw, and he had the idea to build garden beds for neighbors in the park to start conversation. That original project had a resurgence after the flooding of Tropical Storm Irene when the Ottauquechee River cut a swath through the park, and is gaining momentum again as food costs have increased. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. valley news photographs — James M. Patterson

  • Josh Putnam helps his nephew Lucas Putnam, 4, left, and son Logan Putnam, 4, right, measure a raised bed at his home at Riverside Mobile Home Park in Woodstock, Vt., of Tuesday, June 21, 2022. The park is rejuvenating its community gardens in light of increasing food prices. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Daniel Putnam checks on the progress of the sunflowers and wild flowers in a raised bed near their house at Riverside Mobile Home Park in Woodstock, Vt., on Tuesday, June 21, 2022. Putnam built eight raised beds for his family and neighbors this year with materials provided by Sustainable Woodstock. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. valley news — James M. Patterson

  • Logan Putnam, 4, left, tries to take a drink from the hose as his cousins Hunter Putnam, 9, back right, and Lucas, 4, water their strawberries in a raised bed outside their house in the Riverside Mobile Home Park in Woodstock, Vt., on Tuesday, June 21, 2022. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. James M. Patterson

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 6/27/2022 9:27:08 PM
Modified: 6/27/2022 9:27:10 PM

WOODSTOCK — Facing steadily rising food prices, residents at Riverside Mobile Home Park have put on their garden gloves and taken measures into their own hands.

To keep the cost of fruit and vegetables low, over the first weekend in June brothers Daniel and Josh Putnam built eight garden beds in the park with funding and supply assistance from Sustainable Woodstock. Now residents wait and watch for the first signs of the bounty to come — buttercup squash, cucumbers, tomatoes and dill seedlings need just a bit more time in the dirt before they start bearing produce.

Most people who live in Riverside are low income or retirees. The park is a few miles west of Woodstock village and sits just above the bank of the Ottauquechee River. In August 2011, Tropical Storm Irene sent floodwaters ripping through Riverside, flipping cars on their backs and leaving the park without electricity for five days. Residents were left staring down tens of thousands of dollars in repairs.

The year after the storm, resident Al Pristaw, a retired optometrist, built seven garden beds.

“In Irene, everything was wiped out,” Pristaw said. “I figured if everyone could start growing stuff and swapping cucumbers, it could create a sense of community.”

The project — which was also completed with funding from Sustainable Woodstock — went strong for a bit before going to seed. The beds sat mostly untouched for years until a new kind of crisis brought them back into focus.

With the economy still reeling from the coronavirus pandemic, inflation and a fragile supply chain have contributed to an increase of over 8% for the price of produce. Now up 10% from pre-pandemic numbers, over a quarter of Vermonters are estimated to be currently experiencing food insecurity.

“It gets worse all the time,” said Daniel Putnam, who works in highway maintenance for the Town of Woodstock.

This spring, Pristaw enlisted the help of the Putnam brothers to revive the garden project in an attempt to ease the burden of soaring prices.

Riverside residents own their homes but rent their lots.

Monthly payment on one of the 41 lots in the park currently stands at $462, and residents said every year that goes up by $11.

“People who live on fifteen-hundred or sixteen-hundred dollars a month can’t spend four bucks on a head of lettuce,” Pristaw said.

Instead of a community garden, residents tend to individual beds outside of their homes. In addition to building new beds earlier this month, the Putnams filled in seven of the original beds from Pristaw’s efforts following Irene.

Sustainable Woodstock, a nonprofit that aims to build solutions to the long term impacts of climate change in Windsor County, provided $1,300 for this summer’s project, $1,000 of which came from a Ben & Jerry’s Foundation Community Action Team grant. This paid for the Putnams’ labor, and for lumber and soil.

“During the earlier days of the pandemic, through our Grow Your Own Garden program, we provided seedlings and seeds to families to grow a garden who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford to,” Jenevra Wetmore, Sustainable Woodstock’s program director, said.

Grow Your Own Garden seedlings found new life in the Riverside garden beds, and the brothers purchased the lumber they needed from Van Alstyne Mill in East Barnard.

“They did a really good job constructing them,” Wetmore said. “It’s really solid, and I love that it’s local lumber.”

For some, the garden beds were more than just an opportunity to save some cash. Daniel and Josh built a bed behind resident Dylan Stevens’ home, and now he’s waiting for his small tomato and pepper seedlings to bear some fruit.

“It was something new, something I haven’t done yet,” Stevens said.

Daniel’s 4-year-old son Lucas specifically requested sunflowers in one of their family’s beds. With attention and some luck, the sunflowers will stand a few feet above Lucas in two or three months. And maybe his strawberry plants will have sprouted too.

Frances Mize is a Report for America corps member. She can be reached at fmize@vnews.com or 603-727-3242.




Valley News

24 Interchange Drive
West Lebanon, NH 03784
603-298-8711

 

© 2021 Valley News
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy