Cultivating Community at Brookside
Neighbors build community gardening together
Several times this summer Ginseng MacKay-Tisbert noticed a strange phenomenon in the community garden at Brookside, a quiet cul-de-sac in Colchester.
“I would go to work on a project by myself and all of the sudden everyone would be there. Helping.”
It was something that happened several times throughout the summer. Neighbors would see her working on a project and would come out to help or just ask what she was working on. It was a nice reminder of the community engagement that the Brookside garden had helped foster.
Ginseng did her research before moving into one of the 42 townhouse-style apartments. She was frustrated by lack of available options on the private market, but through Champlain Housing Trust, Ginseng was able to seek out a property that fit her needs. She wanted to find a community that featured amenities and would really offer a sense of home.
Brookside stood out.
“It kind of feels like you have your own little house and your own space. There’s woods and all the trails back behind the neighborhood.”
It was great fit. Ginseng officially made the move in January 2020. While she loved her new space, there was something missing.
“Brookside can be a little cold when you first move there. Everyone has their own space and I think everyone is looking for that sense of privacy.”
Community building efforts and volunteer opportunities have made a big difference in the neighborhood. Ginseng has appreciated CHT staff’s willingness to offer volunteer opportunities.
“CHT wants to hear people out and engage people. I’ve really enjoyed being able to have that presence in my community.”
One of those opportunities was to help build the gardens at Brookside. CHT sponsored Ginseng and another resident to take a series of classes with the Vermont Community Garden Network. The process gave Ginseng a sense of hope during the cold winter months, made even more difficult by the pandemic.
That emotional toll was felt especially hard after a neighbor took their own life earlier this year. The loss spurred the entire community to think more about the need to connect with each other.
“It was a huge awakening about the impact of isolation and the responsibility we have toward our neighbors.”
Throughout the spring and summer, residents worked with CHT Resident Services Coordinator Meghan Tedder to build and maintain garden plots for residents and held events to grow engagement. Gardeners are already looking ahead to next year, hoping to create additional shared gardening spaces for berry bushes and even a pumpkin patch for kids to enjoy in the fall.
CHT’s garden program has now expanded to eight properties with 121 resident gardeners managing their own plots. While gardeners are excited to grow their own produce, the benefits reach beyond freshly grown vegetables.
According to a CHT survey of resident gardeners, many found emotional benefits in the program as well. Residents said they enjoyed connecting with neighbors and being more involved in their communities. Creating a communal space that might have been missing in the past, many respondents said the gardens had improved their mental and emotional
A sentiment that was echoed by Ginseng.
“Everyone is really yearning for that neighbor, neighborhood experience. The gardens became that communal spot. Anytime anyone was there, other people would show up.”