Last Thursday, I joined the Rev. Rachel Field, the South Central Region Missionary, for a visit to the Dudley Community Garden while she and her partner picked up a rototiller from the farm. The community garden occupies just a sliver of the ten-acre Dudley Farm in North Guilford. Along with the garden, an 1845 family home turned museum, the Munder Barn (rentable for events), and multiple farm animals make up the rest of the property. The property is overseen by the Dudley Foundation, a nonprofit established in the 1990s in cooperation with the North Guilford Volunteer Fire Company and a network of volunteers — one of whom is Judy Stone.
Judy, a member of both St. John’s, North Guilford and Christ Church, New Haven, has overseen the community garden since 2005, however she has been a gardener there since 1997. Between 2009-2011, with the help from a community grant, Judy, her partner Doug, and members of the community built a tool shed at the garden, installed a new watering system, added a fence around the whole garden, and expanded the parking area.
Judy has really helped to build up the community part of a community garden. During the growing season, which is usually May – November, the garden will host potlucks at the picnic area next to the garden, and gather together outside of the garden as well.
“This place is like church for a lot of people,” Judy said of the Dudley Community Garden. “It is very busy on a Sunday morning.” Judy visits the garden almost daily in the summertime and “oh, well, quite frequently” during the rest of the year. Judy has really taken on a role similar to a chaplain, or minister in this community. She said that during the summer, she has a hard time on Sunday mornings actually working in her plot. “People always want to come up and talk to me about this or that, or what is going on in their lives,” she said.
“There is a real community that has developed,” Rachel said. Folks come to the garden with troubles, joys, curiosity, and desires, and they are met by a friendly and compassionate presence in Judy. The first conversation Judy had with Rachel and Jonathan when we arrived to the garden was how their neighboring plot-owner, an elderly woman, was doing. “We have people from all stages of life here, some young couples, like Rachel and Jonathan, and we also have some older folks who are dealing with health issues,” Judy said.
“This community is a hodge-podge of people around Guilford, Northford, and Durham,” Rachel said. “They all come for different reasons, but there is a sense of being together even among the solitude of the woods.” Rachel and her partner, Jonathan, had a 144 square-foot plot for the last two years at the garden. Rachel and Jonathan have experimented growing different vegetables in their plot: cabbage, brussels sprouts, garlic, tomatoes, peppers, soy beans, snap peas, sweet potatoes, radishes, carrots, beets, kale, chard, cucumbers, and more. When we were there last week, the garlic was still growing strong over the winter – so in preparation for handing their plot over to a new gardener, they sectioned off the garlic.
The community garden is an organic garden that follows proper organic farming techniques, including not tilling the whole garden every year. This, Judy said, has been an adjustment for some folks in the community. Not completely different from a church community, change doesn’t always come easy to the garden community. It is a process of working with, learning from, and embracing the differences within each other. “Fellow gardeners are always cruising the rows [of the garden] to share ideas, seeds, and food,” Rachel said. “It is a model of community, we check in on each other.”
The community garden at Dudley Farm is only a sliver of this growing community nestled into the town of North Guilford. If you are interested in learning more about the farm, garden, and their growing list of workshops and events checkout their website: https://www.dudleyfarm.com. This Saturday, April 6, there is a Winter’s Farmer Market happening as well.