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Collaborative Taunton Press / Newtown High School Garden Takes Root



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Collaborative Taunton Press / Newtown High School Garden Takes Root

By Nancy K. Crevier

Chuck Miller, special issues editor of Fine Homebuilding Magazine from The Taunton Press and his wife, Jeanette, head of the English department at Newtown High School, have planted a seed that has begun to germinate on a sunny slope at The Taunton Press 191 South Main Street site.

The germ of the idea happened, said Mr Miller, when he and his wife were out walking last fall and noticed that in their neighborhood, all of the prime, southern-facing, sunny garden spots were grassy lawns. “We thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to carve out a portion of these lawns and turn them into food?’” recalled Mr Miller, who is also on one of two “green initiative” teams at Taunton Press.

Their thoughts coincided with a time when $4 per gallon gas prices and sky-high oil prices had everyone reconsidering their fossil fuel usage, he said, as well as at a time when farmers’ markets and subscription buyers’ markets seemed to be popping up. “Then you have the Slow Food Movement, and it seemed to us that a tipping point had arrived. People were using fossil fuels to grow and to cut lawns,” he said. It seemed like an idea that could sprout in the right hands, even though neither of the Millers are big gardeners. “Jeanette raises students and I raise rafters,” joked Mr Miller, “but we wondered, why not grow some food locally?”

Some of the lawns in town are on the properties owned by The Taunton Press. “I wondered if we couldn’t take a portion of Taunton Press lawn and just turn it into a garden,” said Mr Miller, “and Jeanette knew just the kids who could help — the greenery program at the high school.”

Taunton Press President Sue Roman was quick to get on board with the idea, particularly as the business has been making changes to “green up” the company, said Mr Miller. “Sue has been very, very supportive, and thought that it was a great way to get kids involved,” he said.

The Millers then approached Newtown High School Principal Charles Dumais, who put them in touch with George Bachman, the head of the greenery program at the school. From there, the project blossomed.

Ms Roman, Mr Bachman, and Mr Miller spent a few days last fall assessing the three Taunton properties for the best location, settling on the south-facing hill at 191 South Main Street. Then, as the first big snow storm of 2008 sent snowflakes whirling overhead, Mr Bachman and one of his students, Keith Hoffman, hurried to lay newspaper and straw over the 400-square-foot space laid out by NHS senior Allyson Macuch, who is organizing the garden as a senior project. The newspaper and straw process is an organic method to passively prepare the garden for the spring’s planting. The thick layers of mulch left to mellow the land over the winter decompose any lawn beneath, and then act as an organic addition to the soil when turned over.

“Kristin Violette, who team-teaches with me, and I were excited because it’s something we have wanted to do at the school for a long time,” said Mr Bachman, “but because of construction and other restraints, we haven’t been able to do so. Ultimately, we would like to do this at the school and tie it in with the culinary program.”

On Tuesday, April 28, Mr Bachman, Mr Miller, Ms Roman, and Mr Dumais joined with greenery students Allyson, Keith, Will Shier, Billy Sieling, and Chris McDonough to break ground on the collaborative effort.

As he pitched a pile of straw off of the garden bed beneath an unusually hot April sun, Mr Dumais said, “The school is always looking for ways to let kids explore new things. This is a great opportunity.”

“It’s wonderful,” said Ms Roman. “It’s a good partnership between us and the schools.” Taunton Press is also “doing a lot throughout the buildings to be more ‘green,’” she said.

One of those green efforts at 191 South Main Street will directly benefit the garden, said Mr Miller. In the facility’s lunchroom, an emptied five-gallon joint compound bucket stands ready to receive scraps from diners’ meals. Those scraps are then dumped into a compost tumbler in a back room, where it is regularly turned. From the tumbler, the compost is moved to an outside compost heap and cafeteria Chef Michael Louchon adds vegetable waste to the pile. With grass clippings and other organic matter tossed in, Mr Miller does not doubt that a good supply of rich compost will be ready by summer’s end to use on the new garden.

In the meantime, said Mr Bachman, a compost pile that has been in the making at NHS for quite some time is able to supply the first dose of organic material to the newly turned garden. By the middle of the first week in May, he said, the soil should be ready for planting.

Allyson has already met with Chef Louchon and decided on the variety of plants that will be grown this summer. “He had a list of things he would like to see us grow,” said Allyson. “Mostly he is looking for lettuces, cucumbers, tomatoes, and other vegetables that can be readily used over time,” she said.

Allyson said that she is appreciative of the local businesses who are helping her out. Lexington Gardens generously donated the seeds that she needed, said Allyson, and presently there are Sungold and Beefsteak tomato seedlings, as well as beet seedlings growing in the school greenhouse, that are nearly ready to go into the ground.

The Newtown Hardware Store has provided enough deer fencing to protect the garden, but the group is still looking for a way to procure the cedar posts needed to put it up, said Mr Miller.

The bounty from the garden will be divided between the high school and Taunton Press cafeterias, said Mr Miller, and if the project is successful, it is possible that other Taunton land will be pressed into service as vegetable gardens in the future.

Allyson and the rest of this spring’s crew will graduate in June, but Mr Bachman said that Mr Dumais and Mr Miller had offered to act as guardians to the fledgling plot over the summer. In the fall, a new team of NHS greenery students will take over the care and harvesting of the garden.

 “This is for the students who show a real interest and have the time to dedicate to it,” said Mr Bachman.

As the garden grows, Ms Roman and Mr Miller hope that being in proximity to the garden will be enough to inspire others to trade their grass for greens.

“We need to husband our resources in a way we have never had to before,” said Mr Miller. “It’s a new world view, a positive realignment of our lives, I think.”

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