Carleton Willard Village’s Organic Gardeners

A few of Carleton Willard’s volunteer Tomato Patch gardeners: (l-r) Staff member and gardener Martha Bryson with residents Madeline Marina, Peggy McKibben, Ruth McDade, Margot Wood, Alice Morrish, Smoke Twichell, Esther Braun, and Betty Hefner.

By Meighan Matthews

On a recent hot and sunny afternoon, we visited a group who are working together because of their shared interests in the environment, concern for future generations and building community. They have started a lush organic tomato garden which will provide tomatoes to their dining room. A job schedule organizes who will weed, water, tie up and harvest the tomatoes. These, however, are not local college students, but residents of Carlton-Willard Village, a non-for-profit retirement community here in Bedford.

One resident, Peggy McKibben, is the mother of Bill McKibben who founded the nonprofit whose mission is to build a grassroots movement to solve the climate crisis. Two years ago, when had a “Global Work Party” on 10/10/2010 to celebrate climate solutions, Peggy sent out an email to gauge interest in participating in a composting project at Carlton-Willard. The composting program is a now success, with three bins being utilized. This spring, the group decided to build on their work and start the “tomato patch.” Using the compost they had created, they set out 18 tomato plants, all of which appear to be healthy, green and almost taller than the gardeners themselves!

Esther Braun and the vigorous vines

We arrived on one of the first harvest days and watched as Esther tied up the tall plants to their stakes and others harvested the first Sungold cherry tomatoes. (They were absolutely delicious.)

The community garden at Carlton-Willard is an impressive sight. Down below the main building, behind a screen of trees lies a beautiful field which was once a working farm. The center of the field boasts a very large, fenced-in garden area with multiple garden sites. There is a diversity of gardening evident, including flowers and perennials such as asparagus and raspberries, and vegetable gardens. A well was dug to provide water. Residents and staff alike are invited to work garden plots for their own use and many of the staff have taken advantage of the benefit. One staff person is reported to have said that having a garden site available was one of the major reasons she chose to take the job at Carlton-Willard.

Margot Wood helps to harvest the crop

We asked the group (they call themselves The Tomato Patch People) if they had plans to expand on their efforts next year, and they laughed and replied, “We’re not young, you know!” In their straw hats and sunglasses, they seemed the image of fit, healthy and energetic to us.

We are grateful for their concern for a sustainable future for our earth and our children, and we know one dining room that will have some very tasty fresh tomatoes this summer!

Click to see more Tomato Patch photos.

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