Sunday, June 28, 2009

Step 1: Permission

So, I had this cool idea for a 200 Foot Garden. I talked to a few people about it, and they all thought it sounded great. My wife, Tracy, was on board to help, and a couple neighbors are interested, too. We had to decide--do we go guerrilla, and just plant our beans, squash, peas, and cucumbers and see what happens, or do we ask permission?

As fun as it would be to make all this happen in secret, the fact is that we needed to ask permission. Otherwise, the landscape crews that sometimes trim the weeds would just cut down our veggies.

First we had to figure out who owns the land--the apartment complex or the city. Answer: the apartment complex, which is a mixed-income, somewhat subsidized development, with a large population of senior citizens.

I figured I wanted to make it as easy to say yes as possible, so I wanted our needs to be extremely simple. Could we make this happen if all they could give us was a Yes? I was pretty sure we could, though water would be a handy thing, too.

I put together this one-page proposal:

The 200 Foot Garden Project

What’s the idea? To create a vegetable garden to benefit the Brookline community that will enhance visual beauty, bring together neighbors, and supply healthy vegetables.

Where? A small strip of ground approximately 2 feet wide by 200 feet long, by 99 Kent Street, bounded on one side by a retaining wall and on the other by the sidewalk. A three-foot high chain-link fence runs along the sidewalk.
When? As soon as possible. This is a good time to plant beans, squash, and cucumbers. By mid-July, it’ll be getting too late. This project would run through October.

What do we need? Permission to plant climbing vegetable plants along the length of the retaining wall. The plants will be a mix of pole beans, tomatoes, squash, and cucumbers. These plants will be threaded through the fence and grow such that apartment complex residents and passersby walking to and from Brookline Village can easily pick ripe vegetables and fruit from the sidewalk. The plants will be trimmed and maintained so as not to impinge upon the sidewalk access and will be trimmed at the top, to remain no taller than the fence. Depending on space available, we might also plant a row of lower plants along the retaining wall, inside the fence, and harvest them with volunteers—the vegetables would be left in a basket in the apartment complex for residents and management, and in another basket hung on the fence, at the end of the installation.

In addition, it would be helpful to have access to water from the spigots on the apartment building. If this is not possible, we will bring in water by hand. We’d like to be able to place litter picked from the ground in your trash can/dumpster, and if possible, set up a compost bin at the end of the parking lot (but neither of these are requirements—we can haul it out, if necessary).

Benefits to the apartment complex and management: We will maintain this small strip of land, reducing landscaping costs and efforts by management. This project will promote goodwill between the complex, management, and the neighborhood and town. The garden will provide free vegetables to the residents and management of the complex, as well as neighbors. The project will enhance the visual aspects of this stretch of land. We will keep the piece of ground free of trash and litter, and we will remove all weeds during the summer, and remove all vines and old plants in the fall.

Costs to the complex? None. We’re not asking for any funds, just permission to plant. Though if you provide us with water, that is some cost to you (if possible, we’d plan to mulch in order to keep down water needs). If liability is a concern, we’re willing to sign waivers and ensure that all volunteers also sign liability waivers.

Who are we? We’re Patrick and Tracy Gabridge, neighbors from around the corner (MM Netherlands Road) with an interest in gardening, as well as MMMMM, a resident at 55 Village Way. Patrick has managed two different community gardens in Roxbury and is a graduate of the Master Urban Gardener Program offered by the Boston Natural Areas Network. He’s also an officer of the Riverway Island Neighborhood Association. Tracy is a librarian at MIT and writes a blog, Beyond Dinner, about sustainable agriculture and food. If we get permission to plant, there are a number of other neighbors who are likely to join us in this project, plus we’d put out flyers encouraging residents of the complex to take part. We can be reached at ###### (home) or ####### (cell), or by e-mail at
Thanks for taking the time to consider our proposal. Please contact us with any questions and let us know how we can make this happen.

I dropped it off at the management office in April, but also got some bad news. The property manager had just resigned, and they had an interim manager until they could hire someone permanent. I knew that was likely to be a problem, but I left the proposal anyway, and I got a phone number.

No response. I left about 4 or 5 phone messages over the next two months, but had no luck. Life got busy, so I started to write it off. Maybe next year.

Then I talked to a friend who lives in the complex. She said that a new manager was just hired--I asked her to get person's name, and went by the next day, with a copy of the proposal.

This time, I got to talk directly to the new manger, who was extremely receptive to the idea. She said she'd bring it to her supervisors, but that there was one problem. They just contracted with a company to replace the fence. So we couldn't plant right away. The good news, however, is that the fence needs to be done by July 15th. If everything else fell into place, we could plant on or around the 16th. Pretty late, but if we had seedlings, we could still get plants in place and producing veggies by September.

Last week, I got the call--permission has been granted. We're good to go.

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