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April 18. 2013 1:33AM

West Side community garden may take root

MANCHESTER - A new community garden could soon spring up on the West Side.



The Board of Mayor and Aldermen voted on Tuesday to allow the Manchester Community Grange to move forward with a plan for 28 raised beds on a city-owned parcel off Varney Street.

Ellen Weist, the director of the newly formed Manchester chapter of the New Hampshire Grange, told members of the Land and Buildings Committee Tuesday that the project would provide gardening opportunities to residents and local organizations, including the nearby Girls Inc., which works with underprivileged girls.

"We're hoping this will create a community," Weist said.

Only a small section of the lot, which is being referred to as the Dunham Community Garden, will be used initially, approximately 1,400 square feet, for the 28 raised beds.

"We're limiting it this year, so we can do it correctly and it can succeed and grow," she told the committee.

Weist emphasized the project will not cost the city any money. She estimated that it would cost $75-$125 to build each of the beds, and the gardeners would have to pay for their own seeds.

The committee voted unanimously to support the proposal and referred it to the full board to vote on later in the evening. Weist indicated time was of the essence, since the Manchester Community Grange hopes to have the beds planted this season.

Weist presented letters of support from Girls Inc. and the Polaris Charter School, and she said the project has the support of local businesses and residents.

Jane Beaulieu, a member of the city farmer's market association and the chair of the Manchester Conservation Commission, appeared beside Weist to express her support.

"I have a lot of background in fundraising. Ellen will be the supervisor, but she'll have my ear," Beaulieu said.

The committee raised some concerns about keeping the garden safe.

"We're aware that wildlife and potential vandalism could be a problem," Weist said. "There are a number of preventative measures we can try that don't cause harm to animals. It's going to be a challenge, but we're going to have to identify them and adapt to them."

Alderman At-Large Joe Kelly Levasseur asked about the possibility of the city incurring legal risks.

"I know there is very little risk in planting. I don't know, maybe a groundhog could jump out and bite someone. I'm a lawyer - we look for places to get money," he said.

Weist replied that anyone who gets a plot would have to fill out an application that would cover liability issues.

She said the plots would be assigned on a first-come, first-served basis, and that the group would place ads in the newspaper.

The parcel is at the end of Dunham Street, where it meets the Piscataquog River. According to Ward 2 Alderman Ron Ludwig, it was once the site of a bobbin factory.

Weist said the soil at the site is being tested, and the results have not come back yet. Only raised beds would be used, until it's determined that the soil is safe, she said.

There are three other community garden sites in the city, according to Weist.

tsiefer@unionleader.com



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